Rohingya: A displaced community

The Rohingya have been driven out of their country and abandoned by the rest of us. 

“I have been struggling and it has become a challenge for me to find food and water every day. I am all alone, while fleeing Myanmar I lost my mother,” says Rahim, 20, a Rohingya now stranded in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. The Rohingya are a people without a country, denied citizenship in their own homeland. Many have fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in Myanmar.

Extremists among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority in Rakhine province have supported a brutal military campaign against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group. Alleged terrorism by some of the Rohingya is the Myanmar government’s explanation for the crackdown. Both the government forces and their opponents report incidents of arson against civilians, forcing entirevillages, even the elderly, infirm and small children to flee their homes.

Many Rohingyas have been living in India illegally, mostly in northern India and in some parts of South India including Kerala. However, India refuses to give them shelter and deports them to Bangladesh. “This is unfair to us, the population is increasing every minute and there are already so many refugees present in India,” says an angry Nabaneeta Bharali Gogoi, a resident of Assam. “Every sector is getting affected because of that and they are involved in some illegal activities as well. This is disturbing for us.”

Reported atrocities against the Rohingya include mass murder and gang rape. Since late August 2017, some 400,000 have left their homes with little or nothing. Arriving in neighboring Bangladesh, refugees meet a kind welcome from humanitarian groups. Despite the work of aid groups, hunger is widespread among the migrants. The refugee camp has filled beyond capacity. Demand for medical care strains resources.

Many arrived weakened or wounded. Some have encountered the horror of landmines while crossing the border. Monsoon flooding has added to the problem of shelter, making some camps difficult or impossible to live in. And increasing the threat of disease are settlements without sanitation. The only option for some is once again to move on, with no clear future.

UNICEF is helping the Rohingya by delivering life-saving supplies and volunteers. It has helped the Bangladesh government immunize 900,000 children and adults against cholera and tested 263,000 children for malnutrition. UNICEF, on their official website, says that “Our motto is to provide education to every Rohingya child and we are supporting 15,000 children to receive educational support”.

But that still begs the question. What are the immediate prospects for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees? No country other than Bangladesh appears willing to shelter them, even if temporarily. International efforts have focussed on trying to persuade the government of Myanmar to protect the remaining Rohingya and thus encourage the million or more who have fled to return in safety to Rakhine province. But an unaccountable government, that has been complicit in the massacre and forced migration of the Rohingya, is unlikely to give them much hope.

India could have done better by them. Instead, the xenophobic Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has chosen to view the crisis in purely sectarian terms, seeing the Rohingya as another wave of Muslim immigration from the east.Preoccupied with ridding Assam of illegal aliens using the controversial National Register of Citizens, the Indian government has chosen to treat the biggest humanitarian crisis in its neighbourhood as a problem of illegal immigration.

With China openly supporting the Myanmar government’s ethnic cleansing policies for its own geopolitical gain, India completely indifferent to their plight and the West with little leverage in the situation, the Rohingya have been left stranded. Some of them will no doubt return to Myanmar, most will stay on in wretched conditions in Bangladesh while those who can will scatter across the region. But the Rohingya, as a community, have become displaced and have joined the ranks of the world’s stateless. In a sense they are the forebears of the great migrations to come, when climate change will add millions more to their numbers. 

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Renuka Thakare
A student of journalism, Renuka loves to read and write.
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