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No hopes for solace

 Rohingya refugees in Thailand are either deported or sent to other countries offering them asylum [Reuters]

February 20, 2014 

The news that Thailand has sent back 1,350 Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar is shocking. They were among the 2,000 who braved the choppy seas to escape persecution to what they thought was the safety of Thailand. Their hopes have now been belied. This is happening at a time when all right-thinking people everywhere, fighting for the rights of those deprived of freedom and a life of self-respect and dignity, are calling for ways to end the suffering of the Rohingyas. The United Nations has described them as being among the world’s most persecuted people.

There is no doubt that the Rohingyas have suffered a lot. Though living in Myanmar for more than a century, they have not been given citizenship. In every respect, they have been treated as second class citizens. In the mid-1990s, thousands of them fled persecution to Bangladesh. An international outcry occurred. Subsequently, after being provided with much-needed relief, most of them returned to Myanmar. And they lived in eternal fear of the next moment. The last two or three years have witnessed more pain and tragedy for them. It all culminated in the killing of 200 of them during the course of riots spearheaded by extremist Buddhists in their Rakhine state about two years ago. That the government is covertly supporting the Buddhists is evident from the fact that not many of those responsible for the rioting and killings have been sent to jail. Even at this moment, the persecution of the Rohingyas continues with the government continuing to ignore demands in some quarters – especially Islamic nations and human rights organisations — that they be recognised as citizens of Myanmar and be given all the rights that other Myanmarese have. 

There is just one way to force the Myanmar government to see reason. But whether it will ever be reasonable remains to be seen. It must be remembered that the military regime had defied the odds during the decades-long sanctions era and ruled with an iron hand. But it is worth trying with countries like India, the United States, China and a few others loosening their embrace of President Thein Sein a bit. But the lure of Myanmar’s natural resources is too much for them. Even some efforts by Aung Saan Suu Kyi may be of some help. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has, however, maintained silence. Having presidential ambitions in elections next year, she may not want to offend the majority Buddhists. She may also not want to anger Thein Sein and his military backers as they will have to make constitutional changes that would allow her to be a candidate. The Rohingyas, therefore, have no hope of immediate solace. Their persecution is likely to continue with the world looking on.