Saturday, November 8, 2014
Myanmar's message to Muslims: Get Out!
The Myanmar government has given the estimated one million Rohingya people in this coastal region of the country a dispiriting choice: Prove your family has lived here for more than 60 years and qualify for second-class citizenship, or be placed in camps and face deportation. The policy, accompanied by a wave of decrees and legislation, has made life for the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, ever more desperate, spurring the biggest flow of Rohingya refugees since a major exodus a couple of years ago. In the last few weeks alone, 14,500 Rohingya have sailed from the beaches of Rakhine State to Thailand, with the ultimate goal of reaching Malaysia, according to the Arakan Project, a group that monitors Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya have faced discrimination for decades. They have been denied citizenship and evicted from their homes, their land has been confiscated, and they have been attacked by the military. After one such attack in 1978, some 200,000 fled to Bangladesh. The latest flare-up began with an outbreak of sectarian rioting in 2012, in which hundreds of Rohingya were killed and dozens of their villages burned to the ground by Buddhists. Since then, close to 100,000 have fled the country, and more than 100,000 have been confined to squalid camps, forbidden to leave. As conditions in the camps have deteriorated, international pressure has mounted on the government to find a humane solution. Instead, the government appears to be accelerating a strategy that human rights groups have described as ethnic cleansing. For many Rohingya, the new policy, called the Rakhine Action Plan, represents a kind of final humiliation, said Mohamed Saeed, a community organizer in a camp on the edge of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State. Many Rohingya came to Myanmar in the 19th century when the British ruled all of what is now India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. But the government’s demand for proof of residence since 1948 is too onerous for many, who either do not have the paperwork or fall short of the six-decade requirement, human rights advocates say. Those who can prove their residence qualify only for naturalized citizenship, which carries fewer rights than full citizenship and can be revoked. Moreover, they would be classified as “Bengali,” rather than Rohingya, suggesting that they are immigrants from Bangladesh and leaving open the possibility of deportation. Under the plan, those Rohingya who cannot meet the standards for naturalized citizenship or refuse to accept the Bengali designation would be placed in camps before being deported. Human Rights Watch described the plan as “nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness.” A spokesman for Rakhine State insisted that the Rohingya did not belong in Myanmar and defended the Rakhine Action Plan as necessary because the higher Muslim birthrate threatened the Buddhist majority.