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  Asia-Pacific
Bangladesh Urgently Needs International Efforts in Resolving the Rohingya Crisis
Special Contribution
By Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Aung San Suu Kyi

It seems Rohingya refugee issue is going to get worse with Saudi Arabia and India expelling Rohingyas. At the same time, for Bangladesh, Indian authority’s illogical and unacceptable intention of pushing over four million of its Bangla-speaking citizen to Bangladesh is a matter of grave concern. Being a senior journalist and editor of Blitz, the most influential newspaper, I am humbly calling upon the international community – the United Nations, United States, United Kingdom and the European Union in particular and the entire Muslim world in general to immediately intervene into the Rohingya refugee issue and extern tremendous pressure on Myanmar thus forcing those notorious military junta and radical Buddhists in that country in abandoning the decade-old evil practice of Rohingya persecution thus immediately taking back over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees (Muslims and Hindus) from Bangladesh. It is a matter of greatest dismay that Saudi Arabia, a country which boasts of being the “guardian of the Muslim Ummah” and “custodian of the “haramine sharifine” is treating Rohingyas in that country in extreme cruel manner and now planning to forcibly send them back to Bangladesh. Such tendency and behavior of the kingdom clearly proves – Muslims in the world as well as any sensible human being should now know Saudi Arabia is not a “guardian” of the Muslims; instead, it is the cruelest nation that does not hesitate in even persecuting a fellow Muslim, especially those in dire situation.

Hindu Rohingyas want to go to ‘Hindustan’:

According to the Lakeland Observer, the Rohingya Hindu refugees in India say they are scared of going back to their villages in Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, but also wary of staying in mostly Muslim Bangladesh.

Caught in the crossfire between Myanmar’s military and Rohingya insurgents, such as members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), hundreds of Hindus who have fled to Bangladesh are placing their hopes on the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Over 500 Rohingya Hindus are sheltered in a cleared-out chicken farm in a Hindu hamlet in Bangladesh’s southeast, a couple of miles from where most of the 700,000 plus Rohingya Muslims who have also fled violence in Myanmar since August 25 , 2017 are living in makeshift camps.

The Hindu refugees say they are scared of going back to their villages in Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, but also wary of staying in mostly Muslim Bangladesh. Though it is claimed by India that Narendra Modi government is making it easier for Hindus from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain citizenship in India, in reality, Indian authorities are even showing extreme reluctance or no intention in exerting pressure on the cruel Myanmar authorities on the issue of Rohingya (Muslim and Hindu) persecution. At the same time, it is a matter of huge shame for a country like India that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world and a secular nation, when it exhibits extreme double-standard thus clearly proving – India is a Hindu state and its claim of secularist is nothing but a huge shambles.

Talking to journalist, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, Niranjan Rudra, sitting on a plastic sheet in the chicken farm flanked by his wife said, “We just want a peaceful life in India, not much. We may not get that in Myanmar or here [Bangladesh].”

Fellow refugees nodded in agreement, stating that they wanted the message to reach the Indian government through the media.

The Indian government declined to comment on the Hindu refugees’ hopes. A government source said it was waiting while the Supreme Court hears an appeal against the home ministry’s plans to deport around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims from the country in addition to expelling over four million Bangla-speaking Muslims.

But Achintya Biswas, a senior member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said India was the natural destination for the Hindus fleeing Myanmar. “Hindu families must be allowed to enter India by the government. Where else will they go? This is their place of origin.”

Biswas said the VHP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh would submit a report to the Indian Home Ministry on the refugees and demand a new policy allowing Hindus from Myanmar and Bangladesh to seek asylum in India.

Hindus make up a small but long-standing minority in Myanmar. In Bangladesh, Hindus are already enjoying equal rights ever since Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009. Although some of the so-called Hindu rights activists are crying foul of “Hindu persecution” in Bangladesh, in reality most of those claims are either false or twisted.

Refugee Rudra, a barber from Myanmar’s Thit Tone Nar Gwa Son village, showed Reuters what he said was a temporary citizenship card issued in 1978 by the authorities there. The card listed his race as “Indian” and religion as “Hindu”.

Rudra and other Hindu refugees said they had fled soon after Rohingya insurgents attacked 30 Myanmar police posts, triggering a fierce military counteroffensive.

Since then, rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have mounted a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the Muslim population, leaving many villages in northern Rakhine empty.

“Our village in Myanmar was surrounded by hundreds of men in black masks on the morning of August 25, 2017,” said Veena Sheel, a mother-of-two whose husband works in Malaysia.

Sheel left the next day with eight other women and their families, walking for two days to reach Bangladesh.

“There are so many people all around us. No peace here, no peace back in Myanmar,” said Sheel. “We should be taken to Hindustan, that’s our land. Wherever we stay, we want to feel safe.”

Since taking office in 2014, Modi government has issued orders stating that no Hindu or member of another minority from Pakistan or Bangladesh would be considered an illegal immigrant even if they entered the country without valid documents on or before December 31, 2014. It also plans to nearly halve to six years the period Hindus from those countries need to have lived in India to be granted citizenship by naturalization.

Narendra Modi’s government has already been criticized by activists for not speaking out against Myanmar’s military offensive, and accused of vilifying the Rohingya in the country to seek legal clearance for their deportation.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is bound to the military:

According to the Interpreter, Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi claimed in a speech that more than half of Muslim villages in Rakhine State are “intact”, and urged foreign media to speak to the remaining Muslims. Likewise, Myanmar’s President Win Myint proclaimed in a recent speech that 2018 has been an auspicious year [because of the Rohingya Muslims and Hindus being forced out of the country] for the Rakhine State. Naturally, such statements have been ridiculed by the international media.

Despite being the leader of the government, Suu Kyi has no control over the Tatmadaw [Burmese Armed Forces] because the Myanmar government is based on military supremacy. According to the country’s constitution, the military commander-in-chief does not have to report to the state counselor.

Suu Kyi’s changed attitude towards the Tatmadaw was evident immediately after her landslide election victory in November 2015, where she stated that there would be no investigations into the past actions of the outgoing military regime or the armed forces. She urged elected National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates to “Forgive those who wronged us … Whatever mistake they have made in the past, we need to give them the chance to change, instead of seeking revenge.”

According to journalist Hui Ying Lee,“Paradoxically, the basis to sustaining democratisation of the country is not to reduce the influence of the Tatmadaw. Instead, it will be successful only by appeasing the military and is dependent on Suu Kyi and the NLD’s ability to compromise with military leaders.

If Suu Kyi publicly condemns the Tatmadaw operations that have driven the Rohingya to Bangladesh, she will be condemning both the Tatmadaw and the voters who elected her party in 2015.

“As such, her leadership position will likely become unstable. Suu Kyi has been constantly reminded of the vulnerability of her own position, and, like any politician, she is acutely sensitive to threats to power.

“Recent by-election results revealed Suu Kyi’s declining popularity amongst the Burmese. The mistreatment of the Rohingya is only one problem in the civil war that has raged in Myanmar since its independence, where the Tatmadaw has been seeking to suppress around 20 armed ethnic minority groups living in the mountainous borderlands of neighbouring India, China, and Thailand. Suu Kyi’s top priority since assuming leadership has been achieving peace with these minorities. Unfortunately, she seems to be a long way from achieving a nationwide ceasefire and the Rohingya crisis makes this goal even more difficult.

“Suu Kyi has failed in her promises to the international community of a peaceful and democratic Myanmar.

“Instead, there has been a drastic escalation in ethnic conflicts that have simmered and sporadically exploded. The Rohingya crisis brings in focus the fact that persecution of Muslims in Myanmar has been ongoing since independence. Despite promises to increase transparency over her government’s handling of the Rohingya crisis while pitching for foreign investment in Myanmar, the UN refugee agency was not consulted in the Rohingya repatriation deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“It is possible, as I’ve argued elsewhere, for ASEAN, Myanmar, China, Bangladesh, and India to facilitate and address the root of the problem, ensuring that the repatriation of Rohingya refugees is done properly. The hallmark of this approach is the direct engagement with those responsible for human rights violations as well as broader groups in society, to address problems and improve the practical framework for human rights protection. This also means forging an agreement between the Tatmadaw and radical groups, such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

“This approach will be attractive to Myanmar for two reasons. It directly addresses the structural challenges of promoting human rights within Myanmar. And while carrying the benefit of facilitating better working relations with China and India, seeing ASEAN involved help overcome the deep distrust of Myanmar officials for international organizations and rights agencies.”

Myanmar’s double-standard centering the Rohingyas:

According to a report by Vidya Krishnan, Special Correspondent of the Los Angeles Times, “In May 2018, the United Nations struck a deal with the Myanmar government under which refugees would be allowed to return to Rakhine, although not necessarily to their original villages, many of which have reportedly been razed or occupied by Buddhists. The deal was widely criticized for not meeting the Rohingya Muslims’ main demands: a restoration of citizenship rights that they have been denied for decades, freedom of movement and guarantees of safety.

“Within hours, the Hindu families were packed and ready to go. But many Muslim refugees protested the terms by striking from jobs they hold as teachers, health workers, translators and builders in the camps. Human rights group assailed the plan as unworkable.”

Krishnan further wrote, “Muslims make up the vast majority of the more than 1 million ethnic Rohingya who once lived in Rakhine. Although many families trace their ancestry in Rakhine back several generations, Myanmar regards Rohingya Muslims as Bangladeshis who migrated there illegally and has denied them citizenship, freedom of movement and other basic rights, and frequently subjected them to state-backed violence. Hindus, by contrast, still hold citizenship in Myanmar and enjoyed greater rights there.”

He wrote, “The Hindu families have appealed to the Indian government for help, but so far New Delhi has provided only humanitarian aid and words of concern. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also taken a tough line regarding Rohingya Muslims who fled to India, describing the estimated 40,000 refugees as a security threat and deporting a dozen of them back to Myanmar [and Bangladesh] despite the threats against them.”

United Nations seeks clarification from India:

According to the Eur Asian Times, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sought clarification from India over its decision to repatriate a group of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar on Thursday. The group had been detained in Assam and had been serving a prison term since 2013 for illegal entry into India. This was the second such step by India since October 2018. The agency wants to know under what circumstances were the asylum seekers sent back.

The repatriation of the Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar is regarded controversial. The conditions for their return is currently negative. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed. The Rohingya continue to face restrictions and abuse. Moreover, there is little to no sign of accountability or a path to citizenship as demanded by Rohingya who were forced to run for their lives.

More than 40 humanitarian organizations working on the ground in Bangladesh have warned that returning the Rohingya to their homes now would be dangerous and premature. The UNHCR reiterates that current conditions in Myanmar are not conducive ‘to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees’.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court is investigating the crimes against the Rohingya. The United States has also already placed sanctions on Myanmar military and border guard officials and the two army battalions that led the attacks on Rohingya civilians.

Amnesty International criticizes India:

According to Indian daily newspaper the Business Standard, “Amnesty India Monday said that the Indian government's expulsion of Rohingya asylum-seekers to Myanmar shows a disdain for international laws.

On January 4, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said a family of Rohingya asylum-seekers from Rakhine state, registered with the UNHCR in India, was sent back to Myanmar after being detained in Assam, where they had been serving a prison term since 2013 for illegal entry into India.

“Amnesty India issued a statement saying it regretted India's decision to repatriate the asylum-seekers to Myanmar, where conditions are not conducive for their return.

"The fact that the government ignored the UNHCR's requests for access to the family, who were registered as asylum-seekers, is deeply concerning. The government's actions indicate a blatant disregard for the international refugee protection mechanism and the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency," Abhirr V P, senior campaigner, Amnesty India, said”

Myanmar’s false accusation against Bangladesh:

According Myanmar-based news portal Eleven Media, “During a press brief regarding the recent attacks on police outposts in Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State, Spokesperson for the President’s Office Zaw Htay claimed that there are bases where the Arakan Army (AA) insurgents and ARSA [Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army] terrorist group operate out of in Bangladesh.

“Zaw Htay said, in response to a question posed by a journalist on rumors circulating that AA has been colluding with ARSA at the press briefing held on January 7 at the President’s Office in Nay Pyi Taw, “On the side of Bangladesh, there are two AA and three ARSA bases. The military had made formal complaints to the Bangladesh military diplomats regarding this. We are also trying to send in our dissent against these organizations operating on Bangladeshi land and sowing chaos within Myanmar. But since it is not within our territory, we are having a hard time routing out the threats as they would retreat back over the border if anything. The ARSA is a terror group. In the past, not only Rakhine ethnics but Mro and Dinet ethnics have suffered at their hands of ARSA so if there is any cooperation going on between them, we want it stopped immediately. Even if there isn’t any cooperation, the AA should avoid anything that would help the ARSA whether in terms of politics or military power.”

Similar propaganda was also published in another Myanmar-based news portal The Irrawaddy.

Conclusion:

While Myanmar authorities are continuing fabricated propaganda centering the Rohingya issue making false claims of the existence of AA and ARSA camps inside Bangladesh, authorities in Dhaka seem to be either ignorant or unaware of such notorious media offensives. It is clearly understood, Myanmar military establishment, with the active collaboration of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi are continuing such false propaganda to avoid any possible actions taken by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to indefinitely delay the process of taking back those 1.1 million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

While Bangladesh already is facing tremendous socio-economic stains because of the existing 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, India and Saudi Arabia’s nefarious attempt of expelling the Rohingya refugees would further deepen the crisis and enhance burden to Bangladesh. At the same time, the possibility of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi forcibly pushing over four million Bangla-speaking Muslims into Bangladesh by wrongly branding them as Bangladeshi nationals is another massive challenge for the Bangladesh government.

Considering the existing warm relations between Dhaka and Delhi, Bangladesh authorities are maintaining silence of this issue. But for sure, Dhaka’s silence on Narendra Modi’s desire of pushing over four million Bangla-speaking Muslims into Bangladesh, most possibly before the upcoming Lok Sabha [General Assembly] election is giving un-protested scope to the ruling party in India in moving ahead with this dangerous agenda.

Saudi Arabia and India must remember – by forcibly sending Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh would only ignite anti-Saudi and anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh. At the same time, if Narendra Modi will start forcefully pushing Bangla-speaking Muslims into Bangladesh, he will only contributes in turning the 170 million people of Bangladesh into diehard anti-India.

Through this article, I am making an open call on every conscious individual in the world to stand in unison with their support towards Bangladesh and help the country in resolving the Rohingya crisis as well as stop India from pushing those millions of Bangla-speaking Muslims into Bangladesh. At the same time, international community needs to condemn Saudi Arabia for its inhuman decision of sending the Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh. We also demand immediate action from the International Criminal Court against Myanmar and sincerely believe United Nations and United States in particular will take urgent steps in compelling Myanmar in abandoning its decade-old wrong habit of persecuting the religious minorities.



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