The Rohingya Muslims are drifting at sea in their quest for peace and security, and it seems their efforts are likely to go in vain. Having endured years of ethnic cleansing in their homeland, they now face death at sea as neighbouring governments opt to bury their heads in the sand and avoid taking the initiative in tackling this dire crisis.
The plight of the Rohingya Muslims continues to be an issue of insignificance amongst the international community. The starting point of their injustice has been the brutal persecution that they have suffered at the hands of local Buddhists. The two faith-driven groups have been in an uneasy coexistence for a while now as the Buddhist majority continue to enslave the weak Rohingya Muslims. Their suffering has been continually ignored by the Burmese government; even so-called campaigners such as Aung San Suu Kyi do not seem particularly interested in standing up for their human rights, an issue which was highlighted infamously in her interview with the BBCs Mishal Husain.
The persistent oppression they have endured has resulted in the situation we have today; as they attempt to escape the brutality they face in their homeland, the governments of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia refused to allow boats dangerously laden with thousands of Rohingya Muslims to land on their shores. Risking death in the quest for some basic human rights, they find themselves faced with a terrible situation of being trapped between different lands unwilling to take them in.
The difficult question that arises from the situation is where do the Rohingya go from here? Being sent back to Burma would only result in further torture and state neglect. Furthermore, there is the added complication that the Rohingya Muslims are not officially recognised as citizens of Burma, and instead they are identified as illegal immigrants of Bangladeshi origin. The Burmese government began a resettlement plan, saying those that can identify itself as Burmese can stay, and those that cannot prove identification will be deported. But given that Burma has never recognised the Rohingya Muslims as citizens, how this persecuted group can prove itself to be Burmese remains a mystery and if anything, it seems to be a convenient way for the Burmese government to absolve itself of any responsibility it has towards the Rohingya.
It seems that for the foreseeable future they will be remaining at sea. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia insist this burden must be shared fairly, and whilst this is understandable, there seems to be lack of impetus from all parties to address the issue. Bangladesh has not opened its borders either, as Sheikh Hasina categorically stated that the Rohingya are not the problem of the Bangladeshi government.
Currently, the Rohingya Muslims are being played like a “human ping-pong” according to the Human Rights Watch, tossed between sealed off borders and unsympathetic states, drowning in despair. The plight of these people has not been chronicled with the detail it has deserved over the years but right now a terrible and tragic disaster is looming for them.
Where the governments of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have a valid point is in the fact that merely absorbing the refugees into their countries will not solve the problem; the root cause of the issue lies in the inability of Muslims and Buddhists to peacefully coexist in Burma. There is a brutal social rift entrenched by poverty and divisive politics that needs to be challenged; if we continue to ignore it the cycle will only repeat, and it won’t be long before another stranded boat emerges amidst the shores of neighbouring countries.
The bleak reality of the situation is that the Rohingya Muslims face death whether they stay or flee. In Burma right now, they are living in squalor and segregation, walled off from the wider Burmese community. Take the example of the 4000 Rohingya Muslims living in a cramped ghetto called Aung Ming Lar where police checkpoints and barbed wire has restricted their access to the outside world. Those who try to use local hospitals are warned that there the doctors will not try to save them, but instead kill them. It is this sort of hostility that greets the Muslims of Rohingya. Sadly this is not the escape to freedom and safety that they envisioned, but a frightening possibility of dying out at sea.
One can hope that the global community builds pressure on Burma to formally recognise the millions of Muslims living within their state. Certainly it is quite a surprise that the British Muslim community in particular has been comparably mute in its response to the plight of the Rohingya. However, such tepid responses are not unique; for example, many British Muslims continue to talk little about the ordeals faced by Muslims in the Central African Republic. Perhaps to illustrate my point a little clearer, imagine there was a stranded boat of Palestinians at sea and the subsequent response there would have been from British Muslims in raising the profile of their suffering and attempt at garnering support for their cause. Picture the twitter storms and hashtags on social media, the protests, the letter writing to MPs and academics and blogging that would have been taking place if such a situation were to occur. Comparably, our response to the crisis of the Rohingya has been unacceptably meek.
Our silence towards the depraved circumstances the Rohingya Muslims find themselves in is a cruel and cold damnation that a persecuted group deprived of hope, dignity or security for decades does not deserve.