End persecution

The situation faced by the Rohingyas in Myanmar’s western Rakhine region is the most serious political and humanitarian problem for the country’s government which has softened its policies lately and is trying to acquire a new image. The issue has also acquired international  dimensions with the  attempts of the persecuted Rohingyas to flee to other countries, especially to Bangladesh and Malaysia. Bangladesh has completely sealed its land border with Myanmar to stop the Rohingyas from coming in and many of them are now undertaking perilous journeys to Malaysia in rickety boats.  The UN has described the Rohingyas as among  the most persecuted minorities  and there is even a demand for UN peacekeeping forces to be stationed in the Rakhine  area.  
Rohingyas are stateless people whose ancestors were supposed to have migrated from the present day Bangladesh to Myanmar. Most of them were stripped of their citizenship by the military government  many years ago. They are predominantly Muslims and have not integrated with the  Buddhist majority which looks upon them with suspicion. There were two major outbreaks of violence in June and last month in which many people, mainly Rohingyas, were killed. There were many others in the past. Thousands of  homes have been destroyed and tens of thousands have been displaced.  So many  have been forced out of the country that there are now perhaps more Rohingyas outside the country than inside. Bangladesh has about 2 lakhs of them. Dhaka has refused to give refugee status to Rohingyas. The violence is basically sectarian and has taken the form of an ethnic cleaning campaign by the majority,  though there are social and economic dimensions to it.

Myanmar is politically more liberal now with a more representative parliament and more room for citizen’s freedoms. But ironically this has created an environment for greater repression of  the minorities. The government should take effective legal and executive steps to ensure the safety of all people living in the country. Citizenship laws may have to revised to accommodate the demands of the Rohingyas and  the government machinery has to bring about peace in the troubled areas. Even the civil liberties leader Aung san Suu Kyi has not been forthcoming in supporting the genuine demands of the Rohingyas. The international community has to exert pressure on the Myanmar government to  secure the rights of the repressed community.

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