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Rohingya need help, not just lip service from Myanmar govt

Photo Displaced Rohingyas 


November 3, 2013 

Fear of safety and communal strife is forcing
the minority community to flee the country

The UN refugee agency this weekend issued a
statement warning about the possible exodus of boat people from Myanmar because
of the outbreak of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pointed out that more
than 1,500 people had left Rakhine state by boat last week and there were
reports that some of them had drowned off the coast.
Fear of personal safety and instability in
Rakhine state are some of the reasons why a growing number of the people are
leaving, according to the UNHCR.
The ongoing tension between the Buddhist and
Muslim communities in Rakhine state this past year has resulted in numerous
casualties. More than 140,000 are internally displaced.
The violence has been largely described as
communal, but experts warned that it was on the verge of becoming a genocide if
left unchecked.
The violence in Rakhine state has also
fostered anti-Muslim sentiment in this Buddhist-majority country that has been
on course for political reform over the past couple of years.
A leading monk even came out and called for
the boycott of Muslim businesses in Myanmar.
But while the open anti-Muslim campaign is
something relatively new, the ill treatment of the Rohingya by the state is
not. And as the UN just pointed out, things are not getting better.
During the first eight months of this year,
the UN estimated that more than 24,000 people, mostly Rohingya, from the
Myanmar-Bangladesh border had left the
area in search of a better life in places like
Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Rohingya travel by boat because they have
no citizenship, making travel over land that much more difficult.
There were hopes that Nobel Peace Prize winner
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy,
would provide some moral support.
But apparently, party politics in Burma has
taken its toll on the once-icon of democracy and human rights and a person who
many believed possessed a great deal of moral authority.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur
on the situation in human rights in Myanmar, recently warned that the
anti-Muslim feeling could seriously damage the country’s economic and political
reforms.
President Thein Sein has paid lip service to
the need to coexist peacefully but more has to be done to translate this into
reality. Groups like Human Rights Watch have suggested that local authorities
are turning a blind eye to the killings of Muslims.
The Myanmar government has been working hard
to push through a peace deal with the armed ethnic armies but unfortunately,
the underlying issue of discrimination against Muslims and particularly
Rohingya receives only lip service.
With the armed minorities, Myanmar speaks of
democracy, human rights and dignity and explores the kind of concessions they
are willing to make to obtain a peace agreement with them.
One can only hope that the Burmese leaders
would extend the same principles to the Rohingya and other Muslims in the
country.