A leading national daily in Nepal recently posted about an art exhibition targeted towards helping the Rohingya community. While this sounded far-fetched at first, it later turned out to be about the 200 Rohingyas in Northern Kathmandu living in abysmal conditions in slums in leaky tents during the monsoon without blankets to prepare for the oncoming winter.
The government of Nepal does not give refuge to the Rohingyas because it does not have the financial capacity to do so and also because it wants to avoid further crises, as stated by the Home Ministry. The country is still trying to recover from the devastating 2015 earthquake and the blockade levied by India soon after.
The Rohingyas face such aversion not only in Nepal but also in India and Bangladesh where the governments refuse to take in the Rohingyas and even those who make it illegally are not recognised as refugees. The refugees who make it to the Bangladeshi shores are charged up to even 10,000 Taka ($122) per person by the local fishermen. Some also pay in gold and other valuables to row across in the boats for five hours. This ‘humanitarian’ act is very lucrative for the rowers while the unregistered Rohingya refugees are made to live in make-shift camps without adequate support and aid. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh said that temporarily Bangladesh would offer shelter but Myanmar should ‘take their nationals back’ soon.
These countries India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are neither parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol and have no legal obligation to take in the refugees. While who should take in the refugees from Myanmar could make for a long debate and many would argue that it is an obligation on the grounds of humanity and practice to accept these refugees, it is more important to delve into the crux of the issue that leads to the displacement of a community of 1 million people.
The Rohingyas who live majorly in Rakhine are not recognised as citizens in Myanmar. Due to the fact that they were brought to Myanmar as labourers by the British during their rule; upon independence, this migration was held illegal. It was then only internal movement since the British ruled the territory of present India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. But the Rohingyas in Myanmar were deemed ‘Bangladeshi’ upon independence in 1948 and were not included in the list of ethnicities eligible to obtain could get citizenship. The military coup in 1962 resulted in them being issued foreign identity cards, and in 1982 the reformed citizenship law reduced them to stateless residents. The direct repercussion of this was on their ability to live a decent standard of life, and they received no benefits or opportunities in the state whatsoever.
The government of Myanmar has been alleged of trying to perform ethnic cleansing in the state by getting rid of the Rohingyas. It has also been accused of committing ‘genocide’ by the international community, including the foreign minister of Bangladesh, because mass killing that is state-backed can be safely termed a genocide. Myanmar is a signatory to the Genocide Convention of Paris, 1948 which obligates the state to prevent and punish all acts of genocide. Further, they are also bound by customary international law and the principle of jus cogens which form the basic norms of International Law that cannot be ignored. Therefore, Myanmar could face sanctions from the international community for its violation of International Law.
This discrimination leading to violence against the Rohingyas also majorly comes because of the difference in faith. The Rohingyas are mostly Muslim in a Buddhist majority state, while some of them are also Hindus. However, in a picture of democracy so well painted by no other than Suu Kyi, who is the de-facto head of Myanmar and to the rest of the world a personification of struggle, sacrifice, and activism, it is of course ironic. Suu Kyi’s silence during these attacks had put her laureate status in question across the world. Upon finally having addressed the issue on September 19th, her statement only reiterated the fact that Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny. She also assured us that the Muslim communities and their villages were intact despite the evidence claiming otherwise. In the state of Rakhine where no media, humanitarian groups, or even the diplomats have any access, Suu Kyi has invited interested people to ‘join in their endeavours’.
The Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for generations now but are still not recognized as citizens by the state. Not only are they deprived of fundamental rights, they are also deprived of basic aid and amenities on part of the State. The Rohingyas are currently stateless and have nowhere to call home. Women are raped, children are killed and the survivors have no choice but to live a life of subjugation. Today, when democracy and peaceful co-existence is the normative order, this particular minority community has been facing sub-human torment. While this does not only put in jeopardy the entire life and teachings of Buddha in a country that is majorly Buddhist, it more importantly raises questions on such heinous acts and how are they ever justified. The most important question that needs an answer is who is responsible for displacing an entire community of minorities: the ‘home’ country, the refuge refusing countries, or the rest of the world for being mere witnesses to such an atrocious endeavour.