After the news of the ethnic massacre of the Rohingya community in Myanmar exploded in mainstream media last year, the country’s military government and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi came under fire for being tight-lipped on the issue.
Reports regarding the rampant arson, rape, pillage and mass displacement of the Muslim minority community appalled the world. But months have lapsed since the conflict was hot news in the media, and predictably, people’s sympathy for the beleaguered community, which was on all-time high, has abruptly faded into forgetfulness.
The plight of the Rohingya persists, however, and mostly because no state is willing to accept them. Rendered stateless by a controversial 1982 decree issued by the military government in Myanmar (then Burma), these people have suffered a history of persecution.
Ever since the outbreak of riots in Myanmar’s Rakhine province last year, this targeted minority has tried to escape death by fleeing to neighbouring countries. While fleeing to foreign lands might have saved lives of some, it has also exposed them to the pits of destitution and discrimination. In Bangladesh, the nearly 20,000 Rohingyas who fled Myanmar live in refugee camps in the most deplorable conditions, and many have resorted to prostitution and other crimes to sustain themselves. Vulnerable to abuse, these refugees live in the constant fear of getting arrested and deported by the authorities in Bangladesh. Since July last year, Bangladesh police and border authorities have launched a massive crackdown, forcing over 6,000 Rohingyas back to Myanmar.
Thailand has also been active in cracking down on illegal Rohingya immigrants and has thwarted scores of them from entering the country via the sea. Recently, the Thai navy turned away 200 Rohingyas in boats off the coast of Thai mainland.
It’s rather unfortunate that the international community has failed to collaborate on this vexing issue. As country after country refuses to give refuge to these destitute people, they shut their eyes to the reality of their existence. It seems like for the Rohingyas, finding a place they can call home will continue to be a harsh and never-ending struggle.