Rights groups call on ASEAN to address “Rohingya situation”

Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Wikimedia Commons

By Anastasiia Shkuro

The Rohingya people – whom the majority Buddhist Burmese population of Myanmar refuses to recognise as an official ethnic group in the country – endure severe conditions in the camps without water and access to electricity.

Escaping from denigration in Myanmar, they have used the boats of traffickers to move to close countries. The whole year passed after they had been accepted by authorities of Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia and sent to the detention camps. Now the right groups are calling on the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to find appropriate place for what some regard as a nation of abandoned and forgotten people.

Historical background

More than 7,000 Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine state of Myanmar left their homes, but remain unable to find new location. They reside in unhygienic conditions, leaving them vulnerable to infectious diseases. They also suffer because of the growth of crime, but do not get sufficient help.

This people group is recognised as one of the most persecuted in the world. Within Myanmar, their movements are limited, even between the various settlements. They are not allowed to visit the capital of the country, Naypyidaw. Thus, they have decided to leave the country of their birth to find peace and escape from a hate campaign spearheaded by the leaders of extremist movements, which are sometimes unwittingly supported by the government of Myanmar.

They have never been accepted by the majority Buddhist society in Myanmar. In their turn, Rohingya claimed to have lived in the area of their current dislocation since the 18th century. However, official politics in the country regard this as false. The authorities are convinced that Rohingyas moved to Myanmar from neighbouring Bangladesh illegally.

In 2011, the situation became even worse when democratic authority was toppled by the military dictatorship. Those who are standing for the values of Buddhism went out at the meetings against Rohingya ethnic group with the posters ‘No Rohingya’ and ‘Rohingyas are not Myanmar citizens’. The wave of national hatred led to the slaughters in the course of which 280 people from the villages with Rohingya population were killed.

The legal issues: the inability to get citizenship status

In the meantime, national leaders have claimed that they do not confirm the existence of such a nation as the Rohingyas, whom most of the majority Buddhist-Burmese population call ‘Bengalis’ or ‘Bangladeshis’. Unfortunately, the legal system is not in the Rohingya’s favour.

A key citizenship law that came into effort in 1982 took into consideration the fact of Ronhingya’s arrival at the area of country only after the nationalisation of the state of Arakan by the British Raj, based in India. It made abusive practices legal, as the Rohingyas are not considered as innate to Myanmar. Consequently, they experience hardship achieving citizenship.

The only way for the Rohingyas to receive official confirmation of residence in the country is to accept the fact of being Bengalese. The second condition is to prove that at least three generations of Rohingya’s ancestors lived within the territory of Myanmar.

Obviously, it is too hard task to do as Rohingya persons have always been subjected to mistreatment in the legal issues – the authorities used to refuse to give appropriate official documents what makes such approval of residence almost unreal.

Moreover, even if a person who belongs to the Rohingya group is able to collect all the necessary documentation, he or she does not gain rights to own the land, create political parties, and choose the job positions in the public service. As well, he or she is not permitted to work in the scopes of engineering, health care industry and legal studies.

Escape by the traffickers’ boats

Being aware of their total insecurity, nearly 140,000 Rohingyas made the decision to leave the country which has failed to protect their fundamental human rights. Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to grant a temporary political asylum to 7,000 to 8,000 Rohingyas. Activists from human rights organizations have applied to the Bangladeshi authorities as well, who have refused to participate in the goodwill campaign on the basis that Bangladesh has neither the financial nor material resources to help refugees.

In this point they faced the inability to move from the country legally and had to use the services of traffickers who took up to $2,000 per person. Moreover, smugglers who were aware of their impunity brutalised the refugees beating them and refusing to give food. n general, they did everything to squeeze additional amounts of money. Luckily, international social organisations along with authorities helped to escape from the arms of smugglers. However, those who had been saved could not find peace being put into detention camps.

Call for aid

In May 2015 the leaders of seventeen democratic countries among which we should mention Australia, Switzerland, the United States, and Japan motivated by the members of United Nations’ officials arrived at the special meeting. This is how the issue of Rohingya’s rights appeared as the topic of the day for the first time.

Even though a lot of humanitarian aid has been given to those who needed it, now the question reveals new aspects. It is stated that approximately 2,500 refugees are still living in the detention camps with poor conditions in Malaysia. As for their hiding-place in Indonesia and Thailand, Rohingya representatives have to reside in the conditions called as inhuman for living. The senior level civil servants regretted of this fact being their failure.

As Siriprapha Petcharamesree, the member of Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Resources explained, the problem has not been solved as all the people ‘detained in detention centers are still there’. He also noticed that they remain in complete rightlessness and can easily be arrested and exiled from the countries of asylum. According to the information of National Human Rights Commission officials, the reason for such a bad treatment lies in the imperfection of Thai migration affairs. Giving a political asylum Thailand does not provide refugees with the possibility to work or receive education.

The tragic circumstances were not long in coming: last month twenty-one people belonging to Rohingya group fled a public place situated in southern Thailand. As the result, Thai police shot one of the refugees. This case brought a lot of attention to the problems typical for detention camps.

According to the recent information, officials in ASEAN circles have intentions to fund the arrangement for the accommodation of the Rohingyas. They have stated that they are completely aware of the physical and mental conditions of those who have to reside in detention camps.