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It’s their land too

By Zahin Hasan
November 21, 2014

It looks as if Bangladesh may be about to receive another wave of Rohingya refugees.

It is estimated that Bangladesh hosts over 300,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. These refugees deserve our sympathy; they fled ethnic violence which was perpetrated by the Buddhist majority of Myanmar with the support of the government of Myanmar.

Rohingya who remain in Myanmar live in an apartheid state. More than 130,000 who were displaced by ethnic violence in 2012 are still confined to camps for internally displaced people. They cannot enter the fields they used to cultivate, or the towns where they used to work; they are dependent on humanitarian aid.

Myanmar denies the Rohingya citizenship, in spite of the fact that the community has lived in Myanmar for over a century. Recently, the government of Myanmar has made a plan to allow Rohingya to apply for citizenship if they can prove that they have lived in Myanmar since before independence (in 1948); however, it is likely that the vast number of Rohingya who live in rural areas will not have the documents to prove this.

Rohingya have been asked to register as “Bengali” in Myanmar’s census, implying that they are recent illegal immigrants; many Rohingya have refused to register, fearing that if they do they will be confined to camps as illegal immigrants.

It has been estimated that 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by boat over the last two years. In recent weeks, the media has reported that over a hundred Rohingya have been arrested on (apparently) trumped-up charges, and some have been beaten or tortured to death by security forces. Human rights groups have voiced the opinion that the recent violence appears to be part of a campaign to terrorise them so that they leave.

It looks as if Bangladesh may be about to receive another wave of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Our government should not be silent while this is happening. We should warn Myanmar that we expect it to guarantee full citizenship to the Rohingya, and create a situation in which the Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh can return to Myanmar. If Myanmar does not do this, we should place an embargo on trade with Myanmar and lobby for sanctions against Myanmar at the UN General Assembly.

Recently, US President Obama put pressure on Myanmar when he said: “Discrimination against the Rohingya or any other religious minority does not express the kind of country that Burma over the long term wants to be.” We should keep the pressure on Myanmar until it ends its system of apartheid. 

Zahin Hasan is a businessman, and a member of the board of directors of Dhaka Tribune.

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