Should India accept Rohingya Muslims stranded at sea?

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Who are Rohingya Muslims

The Rohingya people are a stateless Indo-Aryan people from Rakhine State, Myanmar. There were an estimated 1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar before the 2016–17 crisis. The majority are Muslim while a minority are Hindu. Described by the United Nations in 2013 as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Rohingya population are denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law. According to Human Rights Watch, the 1982 laws “effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality. Despite being able to trace Rohingya history to the 8th century, Myanmar law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the eight “national races”. They are also restricted from freedom of movement, state education and civil service jobs. The legal conditions faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar have been compared with apartheid.

The Rohingyas have faced military crackdowns in 1978, 1991–1992, 2012, 2015 and 2016–2017. UN officials and HRW have described Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing. The UN human rights envoy to Myanmar reported “the long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community… could amount to crimes against humanity,” and there have been warnings of an unfolding genocide. Yanghee Lee, the UN special investigator on Myanmar, believes the country wants to expel its entire Rohingya population. Under the 2008 constitution, the Myanmar military still control much of the country’s government, including the ministries of home, defense and border affairs, 25% of seats in parliament and one vice president.

The Rohingya maintain they are among the indigenous communities of western Myanmar with a heritage dating back over a millennium, with influence from the Arabs, Mughals and Portuguese. The community professes itself as the descendants of people in precolonial Arakan and colonial Arakan; historically, the region was an independent kingdom between Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Rohingya legislators were elected to the Parliaments of Myanmar until persecution increased in the late-20th century. Despite accepting the term Rohingya in the past, the current official position of the Myanmar government is that Rohingyas are not a national race, but are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Myanmar’s government has stopped recognizing the term “Rohingya” and prefers to refer to the community as Bengalis. Rohingya campaign groups, notably the Arakan Rohingya National Organization, demand the right to “self-determination within Myanmar”.

Probes by the UN have found evidence of increasing incitement of hatred and religious intolerance by “ultra-nationalist Buddhists” against Rohingyas while the Myanmar security forces have been conducting “summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment and forced labour” against the community. According to the United Nations, the human rights violations against the Rohingyas could be termed “crimes against humanity”.

Before the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis and the military crackdown in 2016 and 2017, the Rohingya population in Myanmar was around 1.1 to 1.3 million, chiefly in the northern Rakhine townships, which were 80–98% Rohingya. Over 900,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to southeastern Bangladesh as well as to other surrounding countries, and major Muslim nations. More than 100,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar are confined in camps for internally displaced persons.Following a Rohingya rebel attack that killed 12 security forces, August 25, 2017, the military launched “clearance operations” that left 400-3000 dead, many more injured, tortured or raped, villages burned, and over 400,000 Rohingya (about 40% of the remaining Rohingya in Myanmar) fleeing to Bangladesh. Rejected by the country they call home and unwanted by its neighbours, the Rohingya are impoverished, virtually stateless and have been fleeing Myanmar in droves and for decades.

Rohingya Muslims

My Opinion

There are multiple reasons why countries are so cold to this human tragedy.

  1. There are a lot of Rohingyas. Possibly over a million. This is such a large number for any country to handle. Ideally, countries could ration this population and each could take a few thousands. But, the world is not that cooperative yet.
  2. Once India and other countries start accepting that population, Myanmar would be even more justified in its assertion that Rohingyas are Bengalis. This is the reason even Bangladesh is not accepting them.
  3. Once you start accepting Rohingyas, the bigger fear is that rural Banglas would also follow them. That is a lot of millions of people. This is the big worry right now. The economic immigrants opportunistically merged with the Rohingyas make the tragedy very complex.
  4. Finally, Myanmar is in a strategic position for both China and India. Both countries don’t want to piss off the Myanmar junta.

I wish India could give home to some of these refugees after making sure there are no economic immigrants or drug smugglers among them. However, it has to be coordinated by someone like the UN and its responsibility has to be shared by the whole world. More importantly, the silent OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) needs to act. What is the point of talking the Ummah when your own people are left to die in the sea?

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