Bangladesh Proposes International Safe-Zone in Myanmar

Newly arrived Rohingya stretch out their hands to receive puffed rice food rations donated by local volunteers in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017.  (Photo : AP/NEWSis)

Newly arrived Rohingya stretch out their hands to receive puffed rice food rations donated by local volunteers in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Photo : AP/NEWSis)

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), that since August have raided a number of Myanmar police posts creating a bloodbath of fighting, signed into agreement on September ten to a month-long ceasefire on the military so that more urgent humanitarian issues and aid could reach civilians. In this article, The AsiaN offers to readers a run-through of the current dilemma surrounding the Rohingyas through Asia Journalist Association (AJA) Branch President Shafiqul Bashar (Bangladesh). -Editor’s Note

DHAKA: While the exodus of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh continues, Dhaka has stepped up diplomatic efforts to bring an end to this humanity crisis that began in the last week of August. Top officials of the Bangladesh Foreign and Home Ministry told newsmen in Dhaka that Bangladesh has taken a diplomatic initiative to have an area in Myanmar declared an “international safe zone” under UN supervision to ensure safety, security, food and shelter for the homeless and repressed Rohingyas as well as to stop their influx towards Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh has sent letters in this regard to the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), several organizations under the UN, and some other countries including Germany and India.

According to information available from the UN offices in Dhaka, about 300,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh territory since August 25 when the Myanmar army cracked down on Rohingya minority communities in Rakhine province of Myanmar. The army began the persecution against Rohingyas following attacks on some police camps and military outposts by insurgents.

Nearly 1,000 Rohingyas were killed in this military operation and thousands of them, mostly women and children, fled to Bangladesh in search of refuge. About 100 drowned in the Naaf river while they were trying to cross over by boats to reach land. The people who successfully arrived in Bangladesh have spoken of barbaric killings, rapes, and Rohingya villages being set on fire.

Previously in October 2016, similar situations occurred in Rakhine province and at the time, 84,000 Rohingyas escaped to Bangladesh. Persecution of Rohingyas in Rakhine province continues ever since 1978; since then, some 400,000 Rohingya refugees found shelter in Bangladesh and are living in Cox’s Bazar district. The influx of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh is now a big problem for the government and for the people of this country.

Bangladesh also requested that the international community take necessary steps for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to their homeland in Myanmar. The Bangladesh government believes that the Rohingya refugees should go back since they are, by law, still citizens of Myanmar and have been living in that country for centuries. Myanmar authorities, however, decline to accept Rohingyas as their citizens and describe them as Bengali settlers, denying them basic rights such as the right to vote in elections.

But the fact remains that some people from Bangladesh and South-East India moved to the vast, empty, and barren land of Rakhine province some 500 years ago and engaged themselves in cultivating the land by producing agricultural crops. Since then, they have lived there for generations after generations with relative peace and stability. They became known as the Rohingya and enjoyed equal status as the Burmese (now Myanmar) people. During the time Burma (Myanmar) and India were under British colonial rule for 200 years, British rulers recognized Rohingyas as an ethnic Burmese community. Indeed, the Rohingya have their own language and culture that differ from those who live in Bangladesh. Internationally, they are still considered as one of the ethnic minorities of Myanmar. There is no specific information about the size of the Rohingya population, but it is estimated that they reach around 1.5 million in number.

The then military government of Myanmar began their persecution of the Rohingyas in 1977 and started pushing them towards Bangladesh territory. Though the Bangladeshi government opposed such movement, several hundred thousand Rohingyas entered the country in 1978 and were given shelter at several refugee camps in the Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.

These refugee camps were maintained jointly by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Bangladesh. Later, by the initiative of the UNHCR, over 200,000 refugees were repatriated to Myanmar, but some 20,000 could not go back as Myanmar authorities refused to accept them. These people are still living in two camps while their number has increased to 30,000 refugees. Due to persecution by Myanmar military and police, many more Rohingyas have illegally crossed over to Bangladesh in the past years.

This year being no different, since August 25, severe persecution of Rohingyas continues which has created a disastrous human crisis that has drawn the attention of the world. The United Nations, internal organizations, and many countries including the United States have expressed their deep concern, urging Myanmar authorities to stop violence in Rakhine province.

Leading Bangladesh newspaper The Daily Star reported on September 9: “International outcry over the atrocities against Rohingyas is growing with politicians, rights activists, and Nobel laureates castigating the Myanmar government, as an estimated 2,700,000 of the persecuted community have sought refuge in Bangladesh over the past two weeks.”

Many are slamming Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, for failing to condemn the violence against the minority group of her country, leaving her global reputation as an icon of democracy in tatters.

US lawmakers who once strongly backed her rise to power are shifting their position to criticism of her silence in the face of the bloody military crackdown on the Rohingyas. Congressional leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties have added their voices to the international condemnation (Washington Post).

The Trump administration is under growing pressure from Congress and human rights activists to condemn brutalities on Rohingyas. However, neither the White House nor the State Department has yet to come out with any such statement, writes Politico. Activists in the US say only direct messages from Trump or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are likely to influence Myanmar’s repressive military and save civilian lives.

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