The Rohingya: Don’t Go Back


This week we return to one of the recurring themes in this blog: the Rohingya crisis in southern Asia. The cause of the crisis is a matter of debate, some say is its ethnic cleansing, others that it is genocide, but either description amounts to a major violation of human rights that has taken place in plain sight and has been documented by human rights organisations. As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya languish in Bangladesh, refugees from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the only solution offered thus far is for them to voluntarily return to home. This is a mistake that cannot be allowed to happen as by doing so the international community would cease being witnesses to ethnic cleansing and risk becoming participants in a genocide that some argue is already taking place.

It does not take long to find the reasons why a return to Rakhine State would be a mistake as things currently stand, although I will limit myself to just three observations here. The first is febrile political atmosphere to which the Rohingya would return. The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens of Myanmar in the first place, or it should be said, as ‘Rohingya’. There are also severe restrictions on movement, affecting access to education, healthcare and employment.  Prior to the events of 2017 the relations between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine were dismal, with inter-communal violence taking place, and nationalist monks whipping up anti-Rohingya sentiments. The second is the condition of the internally displaced Rohingya in Myanmar, many of whom are victims of a previous bout of violence in 2012. They live in camps that have been described by Human Rights Watch as ‘open-air prisons’ and are dependent on aid to survive. In an ominous development, the government has said that they are to be shut and the people within them relocated, with no explanation as to where. The third is that there has been no discernible change in the government’s stance towards the crisis. On the one hand they claim that they are carrying out ‘clearance operations’ against ‘terrorists’, on the other they claim that the Rohingya are doing it to themselves. Setting aside the fact that the resort to denial is the first defence of authoritarian governments and that both defences are decidedly limp, the mass movement of Rohingya and their evidence-backed testimonies demonstrate that a manmade catastrophe has taken place. To summarise, firstly the Rohingya had few rights even before the 2017 crackdown, secondly there are serious concerns for those currently in Mynamar, and thirdly, the government hasn’t even recognised what has taken place.

The nominally civilian government in Myanmar denies that there has been any wrongdoing by the military and says it is ready to take the refugees back. It also steadfastly refuses independent access to the epicentre of the violence that has taken place and arrests journalists willing to challenge its narrative that it is fighting an insurgency. It is true that there were attacks on the military, but its response cannot be couched in terms of counterinsurgency. What has actually taken place is systemic and organised killing, torture, rape, displacement and the destruction of villages. There is no indication that this has stopped and the refugees continue to cross the border. While the rightful place for the Rohingya is to be back in their homes the sad truth is that the homes may not be there anymore and the country they would be returning to doesn’t recognise them as citizens. As it stands, they cannot go back.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.


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