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Burning Issue

Time to face the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state

The best place on earth to discuss the Rohingya issue is Myanmar - and it's timely to raise the issue with the authorities in Nay Pyi Taw now as they are in the process of seeking political reform for national reconciliation. And reform cannot take effect unless the Rohingya issue is addressed.

Thailand alone, although receiving thousands of ethnic Rohingya annually, cannot solve the problem at the root without good cooperation in Myanmar. Arrest, detention, deportation - as Thailand is doing currently - will not help end the problem. Humanitarian assistance, if any, is just a temporary measure for survival but won't help them to have sustainable better lives.

Trafficking syndicates might take some blame, but they indeed are just facilitators to help the migrants get out of their place of origin and reach new homes.

The Rohingya issue is not new. Thailand arrests thousands of them annually as illegal migrants. News reports on illegal migrant Rohingya appear in the media around this time every year. Sometimes such reports provoke attention from the authorities and international community, but they will never lead to a permanent resolution to end their problem.

The Rohingya are leaving where they come from because they cannot live comfortably due to several disturbing factors: historical, cultural, religious, economic and political. People in Myanmar, who call them 'Bengali', rather than Rohingya, are debating the origins of these people. Many in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where the Rohingya mostly live, regard them as "foreign or alien" and feel very uncomfortable living with them. A series of major clashes between Rakhine and Rohingya people left a score of deaths last year. There are 135 registered ethnic groups in Myanmar but Rohingya are not included in the official list. The Myanmar elite used to recognise them as a part of the nation but there were several attempts during the dictatorial regime in the 1970s to delete them from the notion of state building and make them out as strangers. Some 200,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in Bangladesh since then.

They follow the Muslim faith, while the vast majority of the community is Buddhist. There is nothing wrong being Muslim in a predominantly Buddhist society, but that difference can stir up ethno-religious problems. Normal crime can easily develop into sectarian conflict, with two different religions never trusting each other, as happened in Rakhine State in June and October last year.

The clashes last year displaced at least 70,000 people who are currently living in 50 refugee camps scattered near Sittwe, Kyauktaw and Maungdaw townships in Rakhine State. The authorities are looking at places for permanent settlement for them, but such a plan raises concern among Rakhine people, as they fear they can't live peacefully with the Rohingya. They demanded a public hearing before any decision to resettle the Rohingya in any part of Rakhine State.

Politically, the ethnic Rohingya formed many organisations struggling for some certain degree of self-rule since 1947. The Rohingya political movements are not so strong, but have some voice to show they exist. The most active one these days is Arakan Rohingya National Organisation - ARNO - which tries to unite all ethnic Rohingya in the struggle.

Myanmar officials regard Rohingya political organisations as terrorists and have no peace plan for this ethnic group, although many other armed ethnic groups have drawn up truces.

To solve the Rohingya issue, all con?cerned parties in Myanmar need to readjust their basic attitude toward them first. The government needs to consider them as national citizens and look into the real root cause of the conflict they have with other groups, and with the state of Myanmar. Otherwise they will not cease taking refuge in other countries.




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