Myanmar: Print Media Analysis of the Rohingya Unrest

05 Apr, 2013    ·   3871

Janani Govindankutty analyses reports in the print media to assess the status of the Rohingya unrest

A fresh round of violence between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in Myanmar has stirred sentiments among their Muslim brethren in the Middle East.  Several Muslims believe that the western governments’ normalisation with Myanmar’s government continues despite acts of “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingyas by other groups (Arab News, 5 March 2013). A Muslim minority ethnic group in a predominantly Buddhist country, the Rohingyas are the most persecuted minority group in the world. Being tagged as a minority group has not only stripped them of their basic rights; they have also been subject to heavy persecution and discriminatory policies of the Myanmar regime. The Rohingyas who come from the Rakhine state in Myanmar are Bengali speaking Muslim labourers who came under the yoke of the Myanmar regime in the 1700s.

For decades, tensions between the Buddhists and the Muslims has made conflict inevitable in the region. If communal tones are added to the conflict, not only do the Rohingyas themselves face disaster, but so do the other countries in the region. In 1991, the Muslim world condemned the Myanmar regime’s actions. Most countries in the Middle East voiced outrage; Prince Khaled Sultan Abdul Aziz, the commander of the Saudi contingent in the 1991 Gulf War on his visit to Dhaka, strongly recommended Desert Storm-like actions against Myanmar due to the atrocities committed against the Rohingyas. (The National, 23 August 2012).

“Under the guise of its commitment to "non-interference" and disproportionate attention to the festering territorial disputes in the South China Sea, ASEAN seems unaware that the Rohingya people even exist.” (Arab News, 5 March 2013); Saudi Arabia is perplexed by the ASEAN members’ indifference to the plight of the Rohingyas. Many of the Rohingyas have sought refuge in Saudi Arabia. "I can't go back to Myanmar; I've never seen Arakan, where my family grew, with my own eyes. I have no relatives there and my children know nothing about their country anymore," said Sheikh Noor Al Zubair Shams al Haq, at the Al Rusaifah District community centre in Mecca where the Rohingyans conducts meetings and gatherings. (The National, 9  June 2009). In 2007, a study conducted by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute of Hajj Research in Mecca stated that 74 per cent of Saudi's Rohingya refugees refuse to return to Myanmar under any circumstances, 12 per cent declined to answer and 14 per cent said they would go back only under very specific conditions.

Sympathetic to the immigrant Burmese Rohingyas in the Mecca region, in 2008, the governor of the Mecca region, Prince Khalid Al Faisal, announced that King Abdullah had approved a plan to grant legal-resident status to the refugees. However, in his statement, the Prince said that the government would grant resident status to "those who fled to protect their religion and the Kingdom accepted them because of religious oppression in their homeland".  A UNHCR report states that hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have sought refuge in the Muslim majority Gulf States (Arab News, 28 October 2012).

According to a report prepared by Human Rights Watch, the Burmese armed forces stepped in to keep an uneasy peace, but elements of the security forces allowed attacks on Muslims or participated in the violence. "Inflammatory anti-Muslim media accounts and local propaganda fanned the violence”. (The National, 23 August 2012).   Ironically, the Nobel Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi, when questioned on the citizenship status of the Rohingyas simply said “I don’t know.”   Thein Sein, the transitional president of Burma, replied to UN human rights chief Navi Pillay: “We will take responsibilities for our ethnic people but it is impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingyas who are not our ethnicity.” (Arab News 31 July 2012).

Mehrdad Baouj-Lahout , an Iranian Parliamentarian said that non-binding resolutions adopted by the UN will not help to improve the situation of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. (The Iran Daily, 30 December 2012). Iranian MP Esmaeil Haqiqatpour who visited Myanmar in January 2013 to assess the situation of ethnic Rohingya Muslims said that “Muslims in Myanmar are experiencing poor conditions. The camps allocated to Muslims lack basic amenities and they need financial assistance” (Tehran Times, 21 January 2013). Iran has also been assisting the Rohingyas with humanitarian aid.
“Kuwait deplores in the strongest terms acts of violence, including killing, displacing, and terrorizing, the minority Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar, a high-placed source at the ministry of foreign affairs commented.” (Kuwait Times, 30 October, 2012). Many countries in the Middle East are expressing their concern over the human right violations committed against the Rohingyas and are urging the Myanmar government to take necessary actions.

After exhausting all opportunities of migrating to the Middle East, the Rohingyas at present are fleeing to Thailand and Malaysia. Several Rohingyas have been left to die at sea by the Thai authorities, who have also been accused of selling them to human traffickers. Thus, the Rohingyas will have to seek support from the international community to improve their plight and address their problem of statelessness.