January 16, 2017

What's next for the Rohingya?

Tens of thousands flee a military crackdown in Myanmar.

In the latest spate of violence in Rakhine, Myanmar, an estimated 65,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh over the last few months. A chilling narrative has emerged from refugees of government killings, rapes, and razing of Rohingya villages.  The exodus is in response to a military crackdown in the northern Rakhine region that was launched after a military outpost was attacked on October 9, 2016.

The government says the attack was carried out by a previously unknown armed group.  Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and de facto leader of Myanmar since her party won the country’s first free elections in 2015, has not taken a firm position on the issue. Many in the international community bemoan her ambiguous stance on the Rohingya.  Critics had hoped she would be an advocate for the ethnic minority and help end their decades-long persecution. Supporters of the government say she is negotiating behind closed doors to help resolve the issue. Others say she doesn’t have control of the military, and if she openly takes a stance, it will unleash further violence and undermine the nascent democracy taking shape in Myanmar.  

For the first time, officials from Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to meet to address the refugee crisis. There are currently between 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented Rohingya living in camps in Bangladesh, according to Amnesty International.

On Friday, Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar was expected to meet with the ruling party in Sittwe to assess the situation, but the Arakan National Party refused to meet with her. She has called for an international investigation. Last November, a UN official accused Myanmar’s government of carrying out ethnic cleansing. International human rights groups and NGOs have made similar claims. The government repeatedly denied those allegations.

On January 19, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation will meet in Malaysia to discuss a response to the Rohingya crisis. The meeting will be led by the Malaysian prime minister who has called on Myanmar to stop the “genocide” of Rohingya.  

Myanmar’s government withdrew citizenship for the Rohingya in 1982, leaving them disenfranchised and stateless, despite the fact that they have lived there for generations. Approximately one million Muslim Rohingya are referred to as Bengalis in mainly Buddhist Myanmar, and are seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are denied basic rights like freedom of movement and the right to marry. 

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Priscilla Clapp
Senior Adviser, US Institute of Peace

Wakar Uddin @wquddin
Director General, Arakan Rohingya Union

Shwe Maung @shwemaung_mp
Former Minister of Parliament, Pyithu Hluttaw

Kyaw Tha Hla
Community organizer and media producer

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