Anti-mi­grant protests in Myan­mar’s Rakhine

The China Post - - BUSINESS -

Bud­dhist hard-lin­ers backed by monks protested in Myan­mar’s trou­bled Rakhine state Sun­day against help be­ing of­fered to des­per­ate mi­grants found adrift on boats in the Bay of Ben­gal.

Rakhine, one of Myan­mar’s poor­est states, is a tin­der­box of ten­sion be­tween its Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity and a per­se­cuted Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, many of whom live in dis­place­ment camps af­ter deadly un­rest erupted there in 2012.

Tens of thou­sands of Ro­hingya have fled Rakhine in re­cent years, joined in­creas­ingly by eco­nomic mi­grants from neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh, mainly headed for Malaysia and In­done­sia.

The ex­o­dus was largely ig­nored un­til a crack­down on the peo­ple- smug­gling trade in Thai­land last month caused chaos as gang­mas­ters aban­doned their hu­man car­gos on land and sea.

Some 4,500 Ro­hingya and Bangladeshi mi­grants have since washed ashore in the re­gion while the U.N. es­ti­mates around 2,000 oth­ers are still trapped at sea.

Af­ter mount­ing in­ter­na­tional pres­sure Myan­mar’s navy res­cued more than 900 mi­grants who were brought to Rakhine.

Some 150 have since been repa­tri­ated to Bangladesh.

But the rest are be­ing held in bor­der camps while Bangladesh and Myan­mar de­cide their orig­i­nal na­tion­al­ity.

The res­cues have in­fu­ri­ated Bud­dhist hard-lin­ers who want the Ro­hingya — one of the world’s most per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties — ex­pelled from Myan­mar al­to­gether and say the cen­tral gov­ern­ment should not help those stranded in the Bay of Ben­gal.

Around 500 peo­ple, backed by dozens of monks, gath­ered un­der heavy rain on Sun­day in the state cap­i­tal Sit­twe chant­ing slo­gans, a wit­ness who joined the protest told AFP by phone.

The wit­ness’ ac­count was con­firmed by a protest leader who said si­mul­ta­ne­ous demon­stra­tions would take place in 10 town­ships across the state. “We are protest­ing against Ben­galis that were sent to Rakhine State,” Aung Htay, a protest leader in Sit­twe, told AFP.

Most Myan­mar na­tion­als, in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment, use the term Ben­gali to de­scribe Ro­hingya, many of whom have lived in the re­gion for gen­er­a­tions.

Most of the coun­try’s es­ti­mated 1.3 mil­lion Ro­hingya are re­fused cit­i­zen­ship and face a raft of re­stric­tions on their move­ment, fam­ily size and ac­cess to jobs.

In Maung­daw, the town clos­est to where the res­cued mi­grants are be­ing held, protest or­ga­nizer Tin Maung Than said he ex­pected 200 peo­ple to turn out.

“We are gath­er­ing peo­ple to protest against Ben­gali boat peo­ple here,” he said.

A flyer pro­mot­ing protest plans seen by AFP called on peo­ple to “pro­tect the fu­ture of Rakhine” and also re­ferred to mi­grants as “Kalar,” a com­monly used racist ep­i­thet used to de­scribe Myan­mar’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion.

Anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment has been on the rise across Myan­mar in re­cent years with rad­i­cal monks ac­cused of stok­ing re­li­gious ten­sions with fiery warn­ings that Bud­dhism is un­der threat from Is­lam.

Nei­ther the gov­ern­ment nor op­po­si­tion par­ties have shown much ap­petite to con­front communal ten­sions for fear of alien­at­ing Bud­dhist vot­ers ahead of crunch elec­tions slated for later this year.

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