Myanmar is a newly sovereign nation in Southeast Asia, previously called Burma. Myanmar lies on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. India and Bangladesh border Myanmar to the west, Thailand and Laos to the east, and China to the north. Currently, there is ethnic cleansing occuring in Myanmar known as the Rohingya Crisis.
Who are the Rohingya? The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group that mainly reside in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, where they are fleeing due to persecution. The Rohingya can be traced back to the fifteenth century Arakan Kingdom, now called the Rakhine. Some of the Arakan peoples converted to Islam and identified as the Rohingya which means “from Arakan” (Albert 2018). The majority of the Arakan remained Buddhist and Hindu. Coincidentally, the Arakan ethnicity is one that has been declared acceptable by Myanmar, however they refuse to accept the Rohingya as part of their land. This has been going on since the 1970s due to discriminatory practices in Myanmar, however, in 2012 the Rohingya started migrating in large numbers.
The Myanmar government effectively institutionalized prejudice against Rohingyas by placing restrictions on marriage, employment, education, religious practice, travel, and access to health services. When a rebel militant group attacked police and army posts, the Myanmar government declared the group a terrorist organization and started a brutal campaign against the Rohingya that killed at least 6,700 Rohingya people in the first month alone. Hundreds of villages were destroyed and more than 650,000 Rohingya people were forced to leave Myanmar. The citizens of Myanmar are primarily Theravada Buddhists and view the Rohingyas as outsiders that do not belong on their land. The government refused to recognize the Rohingya as a local ethnic group, claiming them as illegal bengali immigrants, thus also denying them citizenship.
The decision of Myanmar’s government to call the Rohingya terrorists and systemize discrimination against them only encouraged the hatred caused my nationalism-fueled racism. Civilians formed mobs and local militias, who along with the Myanmar army, burned down Rohingya villages and raped and brutalized their women and children. Many Rohingyas are fleeing to Bangladesh. According to estimates from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 950,000 people are refugees in the country, most unregistered and up to 80% women and children. More than 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live in two official camps and numerous extension sites around Cox’s Bazar on the southern tip of Bangladesh, including 625,000 refugees who fled a military strike in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in late August of 2017. About half a million undocumented Rohingya refugees reside in Bangladesh without any rights or access to employment, education, or basic health care.
In mid-November of 2017, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum for the return of refugees who have found shelter in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Information continues to be vague on the rights to be granted to the Rohingya, areas for resettlement, and assurances that such massacres would not reoccur (Albert 2018). Bangladesh is a poverty stricken country that is overpopulated. They do not have the capacity to host the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya coming from Myanmar. They made a plan to move the refugees to a remote island called Thenger Char in the Bay of Bengal in order to push refugees to return to Myanmar. The plans to relocate the 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who have spent years in camps near the Myanmar border do not include the 200,000 unregistered refugees. As defined by the textbook, politics is the process by which people negotiate and compete in the process of making and executing shared or collective decisions (Hague and Harrop 2016). The Rohingya Crisis shows how government action and lack of collective decision can impact and destroy a community.
There are two main parties in Bangladesh: the Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by Khaleda Zia. Politically, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be strengthened by her handling of the refugee influx and her party, the Awami League, will benefit in the next parliamentary elections. Not only in her own country, but to the world, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister is being portrayed “as the humanitarian, while her Myanmar counterpart, Suu Kyi has been obviously demonised as henchwoman of the killer Myanmar army” (Chowdhury, 2017). Although the people of Bangladesh are sympathetic to the Rohingya and their plight, they have concerns about the influx of refugees.
Unemployment is already a present issue in Bangladesh and people are worried that these poor and stateless refugees may begin to work for cheap and take their jobs, causing a rise in crime rates, as well as increases in the price of food and transportation. Caring for the refugees themselves will be expensive for the already impoverished country, especially when Bangladesh’s main tourist attraction, Cox’s Bazaar, is where the refugee camps are located. Bangladesh simply does not have the resources to provide for the Rohingyas. If there was more foreign aid, the Rohingya would not be suffering as much as they are now, but the world is yet again turning a blind eye to humanitarian issues.
It is only when “ethnic cleansing” becomes genocide that other nations are politically inclined to take action.