By P.V. Durga:
In what seems similar to the apartheid in South Africa, the condition of the Rohingya Muslims is nothing but horrifying. Historically, the Rohingya Muslims have been a minority in Burma (now known as Myanmar), and have been denied voting rights and citizenship despite having lived in the Buddhist dominated country for a long time. Today, they are drifting across seas, looking for better shores- literally.
The tension between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists took a violent turn three years ago when reports of Rohingya men raping a Rakhine Buddhist girl came out. Since then, the Rohingyas have been living under strict surveillance in ghettos, where they are denied access to hospitals and education, and the basic necessities are sold to them at “inflated prices”, because they include the cost of bribing the guardians of those goods. Adding to the woes of these inhuman conditions is the fact that the government views them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and is unwilling to offer them citizenship unless they claim their origin from there; but their roots lie solely in Burma.
In order to escape harassment and find “better life” somewhere else, the Rohingya Muslims have been taking to the sea and fleeing to Southeast Asian countries: Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. On the 11th of May, more than 1000 refugees came to the shores of Malaysia after which Malaysia refused entry. As of 15th May, 800 people were offered refuge in Indonesia while the rest were turned down. The three countries have been stating problems of resource crunches, budget constraints and possibilities of social conflicts as reasons for refusing entry to these migrants. Also, the Rohingya Muslims are facing perils of the sea, and resort to violence and murder during their voyage (in boats that are not “seaworthy”), owing to depleting supplies. They fall prey to traffickers too, who are suspected to be receiving aid from the Thai government for keeping them hostage for a ransom. Even on shores, migrants are maltreated, and sometimes beaten. In a nutshell, Rohingya refugees are treated in two extreme ways- they are either left at the mercy of the sea after refusing entry, or are abused on the shores.
Consequently, the ASEAN has been receiving flak for its lack of involvement in the issue, and the UN has criticized the three nations for refusing shelter to the migrants. Contrary to what popular media has been projecting, it is important that we shift focus to Burma in order to solve the problem, rather than criticize nations for refusing to grant shelter. It is noteworthy that Malaysia, despite not being signatory to any international convention about refugees, has hosted about 150,000 refugees over the years. These countries too are caught in a conflict between humanitarian values and economics. Amidst this, all that the Rohingya Muslims can seek is survival. A respectable life seems like a faraway dream, and all this while, we thought we were living in a “civilized” world.