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No rights for the Rohingya: Bangladesh PM words will fall upon deaf ears

A boy sits in a burnt area after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar May 3, 2016. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

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IN the famous words of Hannah Arendt: “a man who is nothing but a man has lost the very qualities which make it possible for other people to treat him as a fellow man.”

Such is the fate of the ethnic Rohingya bouncing between South and Southeast Asia. The Rohingya are being denied citizenship rights at every corner, which deprives them of a political community. As a result, they have become pariahs.

The international community will struggle to find a solution to the crisis unless a humanitarian response is delivered through the state. After all, the international community is merely a number of political communities loosely tied together by institutions.

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In a farewell visit to outgoing Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh Myo Myint Than on Tuesday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon Myanmar to deliver a solution to the problems the country is facing due to the influx of the Rohingya.

Specifically, Hasina raised social and environmental problems caused by the refugees at the Prime Minister’s Office in Dhaka and urged the message to be relayed to the government. However, the words will no doubt fall upon deaf ears because the only long-term solution is citizenship.

Meanwhile, Myanmar will continue the status quo of forcing the Rohingya out of the country.

The situation for the Rohingya is complex. The Bangladesh government considers them as citizens of Myanmar and therefore refuses to take responsibility, whereas the Myanmar government considers the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Rohingya Muslims epitomise the term vulnerable.

Described by some as “amongst the world’s least wanted”, the Rohingya have long suffered in Myanmar due to discriminatory nationality laws. Even democratic leaders such Aung San Suu Kyi have failed miserably to stand up for those outside the political community.

Ignoring the plight of the Rohingya allows Suu Kyi to appeal to those living within the community. It’s simple: without citizenship they are without rights.

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Since a military crackdown in October 2016, it is estimated that 69,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the refugees are unwanted and the only home is outside the political community.

To this end, Bangladesh has pushed forward a controversial plan to resettle tens of thousands of Rohingya on a remote island prone to flooding.

Neither Myanmar or Bangladesh is willing to protect the Rohingya, which leaves an open space in which abuses can occur. As Bangladesh cannot deport the refugees, persecution in the form of isolation is the order of the day.

As we stand by and watch: we must remember that such acts impact on the protection of human rights universally. Our dependency on the state for the provision of rights poses a risk to those living on the margins of a political community.

Instead of pushing for cooperation with Myanmar to solve the crisis, Hasina must recognise that the only solution lies in protection. That Myanmar agrees on finding a joint solution means nothing without the guarantee of rights.

There is little chance that Myanmar is going to reverse its citizenship law to include the Rohingya, which means that Hasina has two options: continue to persecute the Rohingya or undertake the necessary steps with donor support to resettle the Rohingya and provide them with citizenship rights.

Both cost money, but only the latter is humane.