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A disconnect in the Rohingya conundrum

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SONIPAT, INDIA – As of last Friday, the United Nations refugee agency said 270,000 Rohingya have crossed the border since the Myanmar Army launched clearance operations in northern Rakhine state on Aug. 25, following attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police posts.

The number roughly equals a third of the country’s Rohingya population, although the Myanmar government has not released an official figure. The violence has also forced several thousand Rakhine Buddhists and Hindus to flee their homes.

The scale of violence and the hapless situation of innocent civilians have made international headlines since its start. Fortunately or unfortunately, emphasis is given to the plight of the Rohingya, who are stateless and considered to be among the world’s most persecuted peoples.

The Rohingya conundrum has two important dimensions: the international community’s approach and that of the Myanmar government.

The recent upsurge of violence has also led government leaders, heads of international organizations and Nobel laureates to speak up on the issue, including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai.

The core of the conundrum lies in the identity of the Rohingya. While they identify themselves as Rohingya, neither the government nor a majority of the population in Myanmar, including Rakhine Buddhists, accept this claim. Instead they refer to them as illegal Bengali immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

The problem is that neither the Bangladesh government nor its people are willing to accept them as their own. Instead, in several instances Bangladesh’s security forces forced back many of the Rohingya who fled to its shores. The Bangladesh government has also contemplated the idea of temporarily resettling the Rohingya on a low-lying island in the country — a plan that many condemn.


© The Japan Times