India is planning to deport 40,000 Rohingya Muslims, considering them illegal immigrants (even though around 16,500 of them are registered with the UN refugee agency). This plan has sparked strong protests from human rights groups, saying that a deportation to Myanmar, the country where Rohingya Muslims face persecution, is not the solution to the problem.
The UN is also showing concern over the country’s deportation plan. The world governing body brought the issue up with the Indian authority. According to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, refugees cannot be sent back to a place where their freedom is under threat, regardless of their race, faith, nationality, and affiliation with certain social or political groups.
However, India argues that it has rights to do so as the country is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees. In addition, New Delhi has a security concern that Rohingya Muslims are linked with Islamic militant groups.
Those refugees are mostly staying in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR, and Rajasthan, said India’s Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju. Meanwhile, Rohingyas started flooding Bangladesh after a military crackdown in the Rakhine province of Myanmar, said sources in the bordering areas.
According to some sources, there were over 1,000 Rohingya Muslims entering various points,including Balukhali of Ukhia, Hoaikangway of Teknaf, and Ulubunia, Leda and Dhum Dhum Tumbru of Naikkhangchhari.
In October last year, there were around 75,000 Rohingyas flooding Bangladesh, after an attack in an army camp. Rohingya are the world’s most forgotten people. They have been facing discrimination and abuse in Myanmar for years. Leaving the country to seek a better life, they are prone to human trafficking crimes.
Brief history of Rohingyas
The world may focus on the fate of Syrian or African migrants entering Europe. However, in the Southeast Asia region, there are neglected people who are stateless, neglected, and oppressed.
The Myanmar authority argues that Rohingyas are not Myanmar citizens. However, Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for years and their rights are denied by the Myanmar government.
The first Muslims arrived in the Arakan area (near what is now called Bangladesh) by the 1400s CE. Most were employed in the court of the Buddhist King, Narameikhla (Min Saw Mun), who led Arakan in the 1430s.The king welcomed Muslim advisers and courtiers and invited them to his capital.
In 1785, a new tragedy happened after Buddhist Burmese seized Arakan. They expelled, or killed, all of the Muslim Rohingya men; around 35,000 Rohingyas sought safety in Bengal, which was still part of India’s British Raj.
The reason why the origin of Rohingya is debatable is because of the arrival of Rohingya people from India, brought by the British colonialization in Myanmar (from 1826 to 1948). Some dispute this, saying that they are from Bangladesh, and others claim that they come from Myanmar’s southeastern Rakhine (then Arkan) province.
Myanmar’s leader, Thein Sein, denied abusing the human rights of Rohingyas. He even labeled the reports as “the purely fabricated ones”. Even the Myanmar’s called Rohingyas “Bengali”, a term that sounds discriminatory and xenophobic. That term means that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In 2012, more than 100 people were killed in a riot involving Rohingyas and Rakhine-Buddhists. Tens of thousands fled to Bangladesh and around 150,000 were put in a camp.
Interactions between local people and foreigners are also monitored by the government. They are not allowed to discuss politics with foreigners, under penalty of imprisonment. In 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued a regulation that restricts "unnecessary contact" between foreigners and ordinary Burmese people.
Where do Muslim countries (and the world) go when Rohingyas are in need of help?
This is an intriguing question. Ironically, it seems that Muslim states do little to help Rohingya people; and the world doesn’t really care, even though Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia also provide assistance to them.
Does the question imply the world’s hypocrisy? Probably. The Rohingya crisis does not get as much media attention as the Middle East conflict. There are more players in the Middle East than in Myanmar, and each country involved in the Middle East peace process represents its own interest.
Moreover, Rohingyas do not have a local hero who can be a media darling. Whether we like it or not, a figure who can represent the interest of refugees is sometimes needed to raise wider awareness of the issue.
As Myanmar is trying to improve the image by holding its first democratic election, the West may be lured and turn a blind eye to the real problem in Rakhine. Even Myanmar’s human rights advocate, and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, prefers not to discuss this issue. Some have even accused her of failing to use her reputation to fight for the sake of Rohingya people. Suu Kyi never asks Buddhist monks, or anyone, to stop calling Rohingyas ”Bengali”.
The situation is worse as there is no Muslim representative in the country’s parliament who speaks for the suffering Rohingyas. Therefore, it should be other Muslim states to do something to help them. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC) must be the first element to take an initiative to save the most persecuted minority, given that the organization represents all Muslims, no matter where they live.
The OIC must have a binding resolution with a stronger mechanism of implementation, so its members can obey that. As we know, international organizations seem to lack power when it comes to implementing resolutions. For example, Israel has snubbed UN resolutions many times.
So the question is, why do the Muslim countries seem to show solidarity when it comes to helping the Palestinians, but remain silent and are not helping Rohingya Muslims? Are there any vested interests they can gain from helping Palestinians? Why are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, despite their bitter relationship among each other, all united when it comes to defending Palestinians but have nothing to say when it comes to Rohingya Muslims? Perhaps, the move to support Palestinians comes from the Pan Arab movement, and Iran and Turkey could also bank on that issue to claim leadership in the Muslim world.
Should Muslim states impose sanctions on Myanmar too?
If the US, and the EU, used to impose economic sanctions on Myanmar because of the latter’s military government, so should the IOC be able to do the same in response to the Myanmar authorities’ human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
In recent years, both China and India have attempted to boost ties with the government for economic benefit. Many nations, including the United States and Canada, and the European Union, have imposed investment and trade sanctions on Myanmar. The United States, and the European Union, eased most of their sanctions in 2012. Foreign investment comes primarily from China, Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea, India, and Thailand.
Will the IOC be brave enough to place a sanction on Myanmar to stop the suffering of Rohingya Muslims?