Anja Bless | Senior Editor
Genocide in Myanmar
Since 25 August 2017 more than 400,00 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar. They join the 500,000 Rohingya currently housed in Bangladesh, having escaped during violence in times prior.
An ethnic minority group concentrated in a western province of Myanmar (formerly Burma), the Rohingya are stateless as the Myanmar government refuses to grant the 1.1 million Rohingya citizenship. They are considered by the UN to be one of the world’s most persecuted people and some have labelled the systematic stigmatisation, harassment, isolation and violence against the Rohingya as having all the markings of genocide. The most recent flight of the Rohingya from Myanmar was sparked on 25 August 2017 when Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar police posts, the military in turn responded with ‘clearance operations’ which have left Rohingya villages in flames and nearly 400 people dead.
Many are criticising Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counseller and long considered the face of a humanitarian and democratic Myanmar, for claiming that the government still needs to find out “what the real problems are” regarding the violence in the province. Some have even demanded her Nobel Peace Prize be revoked. Though others have been quick to point out that Suu Kyi likely has little say or influence over the decisions of the dominant Myanmar military.
However, the real crisis is in Bangladesh.
The inundation of Rohingya from Myanmar has stretched local resources well beyond capacity. In 2015, the year where Europe was at the peak of the refugee crisis, 363,000 Syrians applied for asylum in EU-28 throughout the entire year. Bangladesh has already seen over that amount of Rohingya cross their border in less than three weeks.
For all the coverage of the Syrian refugee wave that flooded eastern and southern Europe, not to mention the enormous humanitarian effort that came to their aid, it is somewhat telling of Western media that the Rohingya crisis, and Bangladesh’s struggle to support the flood of refugees, barely makes a blip on our news feeds in comparison.
The official UNHCR refugee camps in Bangladesh are “beyond saturation point”, tens of thousands have been left without shelter and food is in short supply. But while aid agencies rush to try and assist the onslaught of those in need, the Bangladeshi government is doing all it can to simply contain the flow of people. In a statement released over the weekend the Bangladeshi government has announced that it will be restricting the movements of any new arrivals, who are mostly concentrated in the Cox’s Bazar area. It is likely that this is intended to prevent Rohingya from disappearing into the boarder population. By keeping them contained, the Bangladeshi government may still have a hope of sending the Rohingya back to Myanmar or on to another country. Although history tells us that Bangladesh may be hard pressed to find an accommodating nation among its neighbours.
Meanwhile, urban and rural slums are emerging as the asylum seekers try to survive in a foreign land. Aid agencies struggle to prevent the spread of disease by channelling their efforts into building temporary latrines. Bangladesh’s health department has pledged to establish 500 temporary hygiene facilities with the UN pledging 8,000 more. New shelters to help house the masses are hoped to be built within the next 10 days.
While some may be quick to criticise Bangladesh’s response to the influx of Rohingya as apathetic or cruel, we would do well to remember similar government actions throughout Europe as the Syrian refugees were passed from one country to another as borders closed up before them. This is notwithstanding the fact that Bangladesh has a history of political turmoil and violence and suffers from widespread poverty, despite improvements in health and education in recent years. Its capability to support an influx of 400,000 refugees cannot be held to the same expectations as a developed nation, particularly when it has significant socioeconomic issues that impact its own people. The question remains however, if neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar will care for and accept the Rohingya, who will?