Bangladesh has once again been exposed to Rohingya influx after fresh violence in Rakhine state of Myanmar that left at least 92 people dead on August 25. Myanmar security forces fired mortars and machine guns at terrified Rohingya villagers fleeing northern Rakhine State for Bangladesh, as clashes which have killed scores continued for a second day.
According to media reports, over two thousand Rohingyas entered Bangladesh through different points of Naikkhyangchhari in the evening on August 26.
The fighting that concentrated on August 25around remote border villages between suspected Rohingya militants and Myanmar security forces, is now increasingly sweeping in civilians from the Muslim minority of Rakhine state. Amid continued bloodshed in Rakhine state of Myanmar and influx of Rohingyas towards Bangladesh, Myanmar troops fired twice on fleeing people near the Bandarban border on August 26.
Rakhine state of Myanmar has become a crucible of religious hatred focused on the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, who are reviled and perceived as illegal immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Dhaka has handed over a protest note to the Myanmar envoy on August 26 and called upon the neighbouring country to stop any fresh flow of Rohingyas towards Bangladesh. The move came at a time when Bangladesh has seen a sudden influx of the Myanmar nationals in the wake of violence in Rakhine state and a statement from the Myanmar army has said “extremist Bengali insurgents attacked a police station in Maungdaw region”. The violence erupted a day after a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan urged to Myanmar to scrap restrictions on movement and citizenship for its Rohingya minority if it wants to avoid fuelling extremism and bring peace to Rakhine state.
Annan was appointed by Suu Kyi to head a year-long commission tasked with healing long-simmering divisions between the Rohingya and local Buddhists. The commission released its report on August 24 terming the suffering of Rohingya community in Rakhine a human rights crisis. The Rakhine Advisory Commission, headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, formed by the government of Myanmar, has suggested several measures for a “peaceful, fair and prosperous future for the people of Rakhine”. The Myanmar government should heed the recommendations, as it said it would when the Commission was formed.
Thousands of Rohingyas, including women, children and elderly people from Rakhine state are now waiting at the no-man’s land and making attempts to enter Bangladesh. Many Rohingyas are entering Bangladesh crossing the Naf River through different border points. More are gathering at different points of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border and waiting to enter Bangladesh.
Members of Bangladesh Coast Guard sent a boat carrying 56 Rohingyas, who tried to enter Bangladesh through Noyapara area of Teknaf upazila, back to Myanmar on August 26.
Bangladesh has a 272-km border with Myanmar that falls in Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar districts. Of this, a 52-km stretch is on the Naf River. Rohingya rebel fighters, under the banner of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group previously known as Harakah al-Yaqin, which instigated the October attacks, staged a coordinated attack on 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine State on August 25 that killed 12 security officials and 77 Rohingya rebel fighters. The latest attacks on police posts in Rakhine have caused a large exodus of Rohingya Muslims to border areas of Bangladesh.
About 2.5 lakh Rohingyas entered Bangladesh in 1978, fleeing Myanmar government’s “Dragon Operations” in Rakhine province, according to Relief and Rohingya Refugee Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) in Cox’s Bazar. Most of them were sent back through bilateral talks between Dhaka and Yangon. But, over 2.5 lakh Rohingyas entered Bangladesh through Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban border areas in 1991-92. The government then set up 21 temporary camps for them in the two districts.
The government registered the names of Rohingya refugees in these camps with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The number of undocumented Myanmar nationals staying illegally in Bangladesh has long been a sticking point between the two countries, with Bangladesh repeatedly asking for repatriation of an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas.
United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner on December 16, 2016 warned Government of Myanmar of long-term repercussions for the country and the region as they failed to allow independent monitors access to the worst affected areas of northern Rakhine state. The UN was getting daily reports of rapes and killings of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and independent monitors were being barred from investigating. At that time UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said in a statement that the government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, had taken a ‘short-sighted, counterproductive, even callous’ approach to the crisis, risking grave long-term repercussions for the region. He urged the Government to reflect on the best path towards a durable resolution to the long-standing grievances of the different communities in northern Rakhine.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi did not respond to the calls from different human rights organisations to stop persecution of Rohingyas. The United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner castigated the Myanmar government, particularly its leader Suu Kyi for hiding behind subterfuge and helping perpetuate the regime of persecution on the Rohingya minority. Suu Kyi’s shameful silence otherwise was an encouragement to the military to carry on with the rape, plunder and torture of the Rohingyas.
The Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, have been subjected to decades of persecution in the Buddhist-majority nation, culminating in massacres in 2012. The violence of that year was described by Human Rights Watch as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” which involved “crimes against humanity” perpetrated by local mobs, at times with the support of state agencies. The Myanmar military carried out mass rapes along with locals to persecute the ethnic Rohingya Muslim community, alleged Rohingya refugees who took shelter in Bangladesh. A large portion of Rohingya women aged between 13 and 45, who managed to escape Myanmar, comprised rape victims.
The ethnic group Rohingya has a deep historical root in north Rakhine which is also called Arakan. The history says, the Rohingyas have been there since the 7th century when they first settled there. Rooted in century old ethno-religious divisiveness, the Rohingya crisis entails serious regional and global ramifications. The Rakhine state comprises of the historic Arakan State, once a sovereign and independent statehood ruled respectively by the Buddhist and Muslim rulers until the Burmese king Bodawphaya conquered it on 28th December 1784 AD.
Bangladesh is under great pressure as desperate people from the Rakhine state are entering into Bangladesh seeking safety and shelter across borders. Despite Border Guards effort to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar’s citizens including women, children and elderly people continue to cross the border into Bangladesh. The latest attacks on August 25 may lead to another wave of refugee influx. Myanmar which appears to be indifferent towards the problem created by it should be tamed by more bilateral and trilateral diplomatic efforts and international interventions. The government may raise the issue in the United Nations General Assembly seeking its intervention.
The writer is a columnist