International news blurbs
The violence that erupted over five months ago in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar, leading to the migration of over 650,000 ethnic Rohingya to Bangladesh, may finally have an end in sight as the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments have arranged for the return of these refugees to their homes.
Although the Rohingya have been heavily persecuted in Myanmar for decades, the current violence can be traced back to the state of emergency declared in Rakhine in 2012, which allowed military control in the province. Tensions between the military and the Rohingya resulted in Rohingya militants attacking government forces in August of 2017. In response, security forces launched an attack, described by the UN as ethnic cleansing, that killed over 6,000 in the first month alone. Many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in response to the violence. However, in an agreement on Tuesday, January 15, Myanmar and Bangladesh provided details regarding the repatriation deal signed in November 2017. The repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will begin as early as next week, and will be carried out over the next two years.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be assisting Bangladesh and Myanmar with the repatriation process, but urges the governments to ensure the voluntary return of the Rohingya minority to their homes. International aid organizations such as Amnesty International have raised concerns about the repatriation, claiming that the return of the Rohingya is “premature” due to the “years of entrenched discrimination and abuse.” The organization stressed the importance of international protection for the Rohingya in the process, “the Rohingya have an absolute right to return to and reside in Myanmar, but there must be no rush to return people to a system of apartheid. Any forcible returns would be a violation of international law.”
One of the major challenges to repatriation is the lack of accountability within the Myanmar government. The incumbent State Chancellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to condemn the violence against the Rohingya. Regarding the military-led ethnic cleansing, Suu Kyi has disputed the UN’S characterization of the violence.
In addition to the failure of the Myanmese leaders to address the persecution of the Rohingya people, the repatriation plan will result in them being transferred from refugee camps in Bangladesh to camps in Myanmar, as their homes were burned down when they were forced to flee. As a result, those who opt to return will effectively be living in a limbo state until the Myanmar government develops a concrete plan to relocate them.
At this critical juncture the government will have to develop additional social programs to integrate the Rohingya into Myanmese society to prevent the situation from deteriorating into violence once more.