by Nurul Islam
(Wednesday, September 30, 2009)
“The bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Burma is obsessed with its economic prospects, the government successfully down played the problem as a repatriation matter only that overshadowed the Rohingya issue.”
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are genetically related to Bengalis, Indians, Arabs and Moors, reflected in their darker skin and south Asian appearance of recognized national groups in Burma.
The Rohingya are one of the two major indigenous people of Rakhine state (Historically known as Arakan; other ethnic community is Rakhine Buddhists), the western province of Burma. The North Rakhine state is situated in the south and south East Asian junction.
The Rohingya people of Burma an ethnic group existing in a state of national Limbo, are one of the most severely affected communities living under the military regime in a country where human rights abuse and suffering is the norm.
The systematic human rights abuses towards the Rohingya are committed with intent to destroy this particular minority community. Since 1948 about 1.5 million Rohingya people have either been expelled or have had to flee the country to escape persecution. Most of them are found in Bangladesh, Pakistan, KSA, UAE and Malaysia. They are vulnerable without any status in those countries. Neither civil society Organizations nor UN bodies and other international Organizations properly addressed this issue since last two decades.
The treatmenet of Rohingya in Burma
The state peace and development council (SPDC, Burma`s government) rejects the existence of a separate ethnic group called “Rohingya”. They are not considered to be a national ethnic group as provided by sec.3 of the 1982 Law, and members of the Rohingya population are therefore ineligible for full citizenship. (A1, 2004)
The vast majority of Rohingyas are effectively denied Burmese citizenship; subjected to severe restriction on freedom of movement; forced Labour; forced eviction; and extortion and arbitrary taxation.
The military regime has declared the Rohingyas as non-nationals in utter disregard of their history, glorious past and establishment in the country.
Planned increase in Buddhist settlement has caused serious demographic changes in northern Rakhine(Arakan).It has systematically got rid of the Rohingya population . In 1983 the military regime had declared certain townships in Rakhine-such as Gwa,Paung Nagunt and Taung-gut as “Muslim free zone”.
Rohingyas are banned from traveling from one place to another, even within same locality, without pass.
The authorities imposed very high rate of taxation on the food grains and every item they produce.
The Rohingyas have to provide slave Labor to build military establishments, bridges, embankments and pagodas.
Since the promulgation of of Burma citizenship Law in 1982, Rohingya students have been denied the right to education.
The Rohingyas are banned from getting married and founding a family. No marriage permission has been granted since March 2005.
Burma is not state party to most international human rights treaties. Amnesty international has consistently urged the SPDC to accede to these treaties. However, the fact that the SPDC has not done so does not release it fromits obligation to respect fundamental human rights which, being provided for under customary international Law, are binding on all states.
The Rohingya in Bangladesh
The Rohingya have been leaving their home country for 30 some years now. They have gone to many different countries, but the biggest choice for them is Bangladesh. There, the Rohingya experience even more difficulty, as the Rohingya are severely poor and have little rights given to them as refugees.
The Bangladeshi government has never formally given them refugee status, and have forced many of them out of the country.
Around 230,000 of the refugees have been repatriated to Burma, but approximately 20,000 remain in the UNHCR administered camps. At least 100,000 Rohingy are believed to be in Bangladesh out side the camps and with no official status as refugees (MSF-Holland).
History of Muslim rule in Arakan and“ Ruhai”in Cox`s Bazar
A lot of people in Cox`s Bazar particularly in Moheshkhali are claiming themselves as “Ruhai” (people of Rohang) and they are very much proud of this name. They feel great with the name of “Ruhai” because they are aware that their fore-fathers were the descendents of Rohingya from Rohang ( Arakan ). There is an authentic history behind their claim. The actual fact is that Muslim rule began in Arakan since 1430. Earlier in 1406 the king of Arakan Narameikhla fled to Muslim Bengal with a large number of his followers when Arakan was invaded by Burman king. He stayed in Bengal for 24 years under the patronage of Bengal ruler Sultan Giasuddin Azam Shah.
There he and his followers embraced “Islam” and took Muslim names. In 1430 Bengal ruler Sultan Jalaluddin Mohammad Shah sent a large Muslim forces to Arakan, drove away the invading Burmans and reinstated Narameikhla , now with the name of Solaiman Shah( Arakanese Chronically corrupted it as Meng Saw Mun)on the throne of Arakan and he and his descendents ruled Arakan for over 200 years(1430-1638). Mrauku was founded as Arakan Capital by him in 1433. Now a days, some ultra-Nationalists,racists so called Rakhine historians are being tried to De-Legitimize Rohingya history by presenting fabricated facts that Meng Saw Mun and his decedents took Muslim names just to please Bengal rulers and denying Muslim in Arakan with their racial name of “Rohingya”. In fact, their presentation is intentional and biased. Their intention is to erase the name, “Rohingya” and its entity despite “Rohingya” is historically and internationally introduced. Rather the previous Burma Democratic Government recognized Rohingya. Some authentic evidences in this regards are mentioned below;
Prime minister U Nu declared “Rohingya” as an indigenous ethnic group of Burma like the Shan, Kachin, Karen,Chin,Mon and Rakhine in a radio speech broadcasted at 8..00 p.m on 24th September,1954.
Encyclopedia Burmaica, Vol 4, No, 9 published by the ministry of Information and Publication clearly mentioned that the “Rohingya” are citizens of Burma and an indigenous ethnic group.
For nearly one century (1582-1666) the district of Chittagong was under Arakanese rule. Arakan was an independent state until the Burman invaders occupied Arakan in 1784. The Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Maghs (Rakhine) were living there until 1784 by exercising peaceful co-existence and communal harmony. Ever since the occupation of Arakan by Burman invaders in 1784CE the Rohingya Arakanese have been made targets of extermination and genocide with the ulterior motive of turning Arakan into a Buddhits dominated province of Burma caused thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled Arakan for the fear of persecution of the anarchic Burman ruler. They arrived in east Bengal and chose Cox`s Bazar Low land area particularly Mohesh Khali and its adjacent areas to rehabilitate.
Exactly, the Rohingya Muslims were passing subjugated life until British occupied Arakan in 1824 under the Burman Invading rulers.They were deprived from all basic human rights and the Burman rulers introduced “divide and rule” policy in Arakan. Soon after Independence the BTF massacred hundreds of Arakan Muslims caused about 50,000 Muslims fled to East Pakistan.So, after the Independence of Burma their generations(Ruhai) were reluctant to return to Arakan due to having awareness about the sufferings of their fore fathers while they were in Arakan and rather they already assimilated locally in east Bengal.But they feel about their fore-father’s ancestral Land, “Rohang”( The ancient name of Arakan ). To this pretext, the Language, Culture etc., between Chittagonians and Rohingyas have found mostly consistence. So far, no exact figure of Rohingyas living in Bangladesh has been traced. But the researchers estimated more than One Lac Rohingyas (excluding Rohingya refugees living in camps) are living in Cox`s Bazar and its adjacent areas because most of the Rohingyas were already assimilated locally. Some quarter claimed that more than three Lac Rohingyas are living scattered in Bangladesh.
History of Rohingya Refugee Influx to Bangladesh
•1942 – 100,000 Rohingya Muslims were massacred during world war 11. A large number of their settlements were uprooted. (Siddique-2007)
•1948 – Arakan became a province of independent Burma.Since then Rohingyas have been driving out of Burma and now living in exile as refugees. (Siddique-2007)
•1974 – Muslims in Northern Rakhine (Arakan)state are given foreign instead of National registration cards.
•1978 – Dragon King operation in Burma causes second refugee influx (200,000 persons)
•1982 – The Burma citizenship Law of 1982, which violate several fundamental principles of customary international Law standards, has reduced them to a position of defacto statelessness.
•1992 – Third refugee influx with 250,000 persons hasted in 21 camps in Bangladesh.
•1993 – By November 50,000 refugees had been forcibly returned. (Wipperman T.E HaqueM-2007)
•1994 – UNHCR Stops individual voluntary repatriation in August 1994, as thousands return to Burma each week. After this date reports of forced repatriation increase.
•2007 – Some refugees were resettled in Canada as part of a pilot resettlement. (Wipperman T.E Haque M-2007)
The sufferings of Rohingya people in Bangladesh
The population density of Rohingya community is so high, and this has an impact on the general status of healthcare.
Mobility is restricted, with employment outside the camp forbidden.
Refugees International noted that most Rohingyas become day laborers ,under cutting the daily wage from 50 taka to around 80 taka.
The Rohingya children brought up in a different culture and poverty over last two decades, which created a generation with lack of cultural identity along with mentality and socially deprived generation.
It is alarming that as this issue was not properly addressed by the state and civil society, the Rohingya have also become a source of anti-social activities.
Although the Rohingya issue belongs to Burma, but it affects Bangladesh the most because of its closed border with Burma.
Bangladesh government has failed to raise the issue in international level.
The bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Burma is obsessed with its economic prospects, the government successfully down played the problem as a repatriation matter only that overshadowed the Rohingya issue.
•Civil society and media should come forward proactively for raising awareness among the mass people and government to address the Rohingya issue properly and adequately.
•As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, especially Bangladesh government should prove its commitment to the refugee protection by taking immediate action to end their abuse and exploitation.
•To take measures for peaceful co-existence with Rakhine people and all other communities in Arakan as well as in Burma.
•To take measures internationally for repatriation from their refugee places and their rehabilitation in their original places.
•As part of civil society , Human rights Organizations should reach international level consensus through national level dialog with aiming to corporate Rohingya issue in to Burma`s current democratic movement.
•Resettlement programs can be initiated from western countries (Canada, which received over thousand refugees a year).
•As regional body ASEAN can push the Burmese present regime to resolve this issue.
•Other international bodies such as SAARC, OIC, and BISMTEC may play positive role regarding Rohingya issue in their own prospective.
•Government of Bangladesh should allow international Organizations to implement better facilities for both camp and non-cam refugees and support the establishment of better educational and skills training programs for Rohingya community.
. Research paper-2007: Nitigobashana Kendro, Dhaka
. Souvenir: A.H.S.
. “History of Arakan “ by Dr. A. Karim
. Various magazines and historical documents of world renowned historians.