For the last few years, Rohingya Muslims have found themselves in the awkward place where some of the world’s stateless peoples have lived and subsisted — largely unnoticed and unassisted by the international community. Wedged uncomfortably between the borders of their native Myanmar and Bangladesh — their first choice of refuge — the Rohingya are counted among the most oppressed groups in the world today. Since the early 1990s this group has faced horrific persecution at the hands of the state’s right-wing Buddhist majority. And with the passage of time their woes seem to have grown immeasurably. Their escape in large numbers to Bangladesh led to the creation of refugee camps and precipitated another crisis after the ethnic group had to compete with other marginalised groups for increasingly scarce humanitarian aid and employment opportunities available there. Their presence in Bangladesh was resented and even opposed at the political level, forcing thousands of them to seek refuge elsewhere, most notably India. This week, however, Indian officials announced plans to deport around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living illegally from their country during a meeting with their Bangladesh and Myanmar counterparts. Delhi’s proposed move crafted in consultation with state governments would deliver yet another body blow to this beleaguered group. It is also clear that India is likely to exploit its status as a non-signatory to the UN conventions on refugees to carry out the deportation of the Rohingya. Condemnations of the contemplated move have been swift and fierce with rights group Amnesty International calling it an ‘unconscionable’ act.
In the meantime Myanmar’s present government has maintained a criminal silence over the fate of the Rohingya — the underlying dynamic driving the repression faced by the group. Initially it was the Buddhist monks, elements of the old military regime and the opposition parties that were indifferent to their plight. But it now seems Myanmar as a whole is uninterested in protecting their fellow citizens from harm.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2017.