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Compassion Needed: International community needs to do more to end persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar

Nearly 480,000 Rohingya Muslims Have Fled to Bangladesh Since August

New Delhi – The ongoing persecution of the Rohingya population in Myanmar once again highlights the pathetic condition of the stateless ethnic group. For decades the Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar has faced discrimination at the hands of the majority Buddhist Burman community. In fact, since the time Myanmar – formerly known as Burma – gained independence from the British in 1948, the Rohingyas have been treated as aliens by the Burmese authorities. Progressively strict citizenship criteria were enacted that excluded the Rohingya from the country’s officially recognised 135 ethnic groups.

As of today, the Rohingyas in Myanmar have severe restrictions placed on their rights to study, work, travel and marry. They can’t vote and have been subjected to several rounds of security crackdowns with Rohingya men, women and children being murdered, raped and tortured. Such crackdowns have forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to flee to other nations where, unfortunately, their condition doesn’t improve significantly. For, these countries also treat Rohingyas as illegal immigrants, turning back their boats or forcing them into deplorable camps.

Since the latest Burmese crackdown began in August – Burmese authorities say they were forced into this after police posts and an army base were attacked by an armed Rohingya group – around 58,000 Rohingyas have fled across the border to Bangladesh while another 10,000 are stranded in no-man’s land between the two countries. Aside from the brutal nature of the crackdown against the heavily marginalised community, what’s shocking is that Burmese Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to speak up for the Rohingyas. Additionally, it must be said that the international community too needs to be blamed for not trying hard enough to protect the Rohingyas and find a solution to their woes.

It’s against this backdrop, that the Indian government needs to reconsider its position on Rohingya refugees. A recent letter from the home ministry to all states and union territories directs them to detect and eventually deport all Rohingyas from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. India has around 40,000 Rohingya refugees. It needs to be remembered that they came here to save their lives. They have no home to go back to. Forcing them to go back to Myanmar is akin to signing their death warrants.

One could argue why should India be alone in hosting Rohingya refugees. This is a valid point and countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand too need to adopt a humanitarian approach towards Rohingyas. But New Delhi shouldn’t shirk its own responsibility. We are a country that was built on humanitarian values and struggled for these during the independence movement. Treating the persecuted Rohingyas with compassion and getting Myanmar to stop discriminating against them should be made an international priority. And India must push for this.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity. 

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