Monday, August 22, 2022

Rohinya - No longer news but still suffering

 At one time, the plight of the Rohingya was headline news but now there is scarcely a mention in the media of the problems that they still face.

Nearly all of the approximately 730,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar in the second half of 2017 remain in sprawling refugee camps in southern Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar. The total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh - including both those displaced by the 2017 atrocities and the several hundred thousand who sought refuge earlier - is close to one million. To date, not a single refugee has returned to Rakhine State through the formal repatriation mechanism that Myanmar and Bangladesh set up in 2017.  The Myanmar government showed no sign of addressing refugees' concerns on key points, such as citizenship, security and livelihoods, failing to provide proper information on even the most basic questions, such as where the refugees -- many of whom came from villages that the military razed to the ground after the 2017 exodus -- would be sent after arriving at transit camps on the Myanmar side of the border. Myanmar shows little inclination to do more than pay lip service to repatriation efforts.

Living conditions for the refugees are poor and worsening. Most live in Kutupalong, the largest refugee camp in the world. They have few job opportunities and little access to formal education, while crime and violence, including killings of Rohingya community leaders, are on the rise. Factions within the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which launched attacks in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017 that the Myanmar military used to justify its crackdown on the Muslim minority, have been fighting with rival groups for control of the camps. 

This development was foreseeable: for a country that still has high levels of poverty and unemployment, hosting over a million refugees is clearly an enormous challenge, particularly for the communities hosting them in Cox's Bazar. 

Bangladesh is also making life more difficult for the refugees. It has progressively placed greater restrictions on their movement, including by fencing off the camps, and closed some private schools and businesses that were being run inside. There has also been little progress on delivering formal education using the Myanmar curriculum, something that many refugees say they want and Crisis Group has advocated for. 

For the estimated 600,000 Rohingya still in Myanmar, nearly all of whom live in Rakhine State, the situation remains bleak. The military regime has tightened restrictions on movement in some areas -- and the country's economic collapse over the past eighteen months has further worsened their plight. Around 120,000 live in displacement camps that were set up following an outbreak of communal violence in 2012. They are almost entirely dependent on international aid. The remaining Rohingya are also often caught between the military and the Arakan Army -- sometimes having to pay taxes to both sides or wrestle with duplicative administrative requirements. Many would likely be caught in the crossfire if war were to resume. Not surprisingly, some are trying to leave the country through risky and expensive overland journeys, mainly to Malaysia. 

The coup also appears to have triggered something of a shift in the way at least some within the broader Myanmar population view the Rohingya. The vast majority among the country's Burman majority population had accepted the military's claims that its 2017 operations against the Muslim minority were a legitimate response to a terrorist attack, in part because the immensely popular Aung San Suu Kyi had also propagated this narrative. After the coup, though, many experienced or witnessed for the first time the military's capacity for inflicting extreme violence on civilians, something that had until then been largely confined to ethnic minority regions. The junta's brutality against Burman communities appears to have prompted some to reassess the events of 2017, concluding that the military did indeed commit atrocities against the Rohingya.

The National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel administration formed by ousted lawmakers and operating mostly from abroad, has also adopted a policy toward the Rohingya that guarantees their right to citizenship and commits to ending other discriminatory policies against them. Although these promises have not been tested, because the NUG is not in control of the state, they are nevertheless notable given that the NUG is largely an offshoot of Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD, which did little to dismantle repressive policies against the Rohingya when it was in power.

Q&A: Five years on, Rohingya refugees face dire conditions and a long road ahead - Bangladesh | ReliefWeb

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