The quasi-military government of Myanmar seems determined to isolate the Rohingya Muslims, numbering about 1.1 million, living in the western Rahkine state. Its Rakhine State Action plan aims to ostracise these hapless people and convert them into the dregs of Myanmar society.
Under the plan, the Rohingyas must identify themselves as Bengali – a term, which implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and most reject it – in order to possibly receive citizenship. Yet another problem is that many Rohingyas do not have the necessary papers to prove they have lived in Myanmar for a long time. Some lost them during the 2012 violence.
All this would mean that thousands will be forced into what is being termed by authorities as “temporary camps.” Of course, the Rakhine State Action Plan has been sugar-coated by the government which said the projects aimed at “reconciliation, economic development, and providing accommodation” for those who remain displaced by the 2012 violence. Deputy Minister for Border Affairs Major-General Tin Aung Chit said a start would be made to the building of infrastructure including roads, houses, schools and clinics this month.
The target is to resettle people before next March when the rainy season begins. Of course nobody believes Chit’s words. Rights groups have warned that those thrown into the camps may have to stay there permanently and will be cut off permanently from mainstream Myanmar society. Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement : “It is nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness that appears designed to strip the Rohingyas of hope and force them to flee the country.” Gregory Polling, of the Center for Strategic International Studies, said the plan is in line with “the government’s decades-long tradition of marginalising and dehumanising the Rohingya.” Polling added that the citizenship verification programme was likely to leave hundreds of thousands of Rohingya stateless, since the government has spent decades systematically denying them the very documents they are now required to provide.
There has been no dearth of international condemnation of the Rakhine State Action Plan. The fact, however, is that such condemnations and expressions of concern over the years, especially after thousands of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in the 1990s, have not been of any help. This was proved by the 2012 violence in Rakhine state, spearheaded by the Buddhists, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200 Rohingyas. Later in violence in the town of Meikhiltila, more than 50 Muslims were killed in 2013. In other parts of Myanmar too, there have been violence against Muslims and many have died. It is time the international community did something concrete to force the government of President Thein Sein to act in accordance with civilised norms. If necessary some sanctions must be reimposed. But all depends on the United States and the European Union which have Mynamar in a tight embrace with the aim of exploiting its natural resources. They must remember that the dignity of human beings is more important than natural resources. And when realisation dawns, the hapless Rohingyas will be comforted.