Imagine living without the right to go to work to provide for your family, to go to school, or to go to the hospital to be treated for illness. For the Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic minority in Burma, this is a daily reality. The Burmese military government denies these people of their Burmese nationality and any other fundamental rights. Lack of citizenship means that the Rohingyas are vulnerable to human rights violations, inter alia, the restrictions on their movement, exclusion from higher education, lack of employment opportunities, arbitrary confiscation of properties, forced labor, and religious persecution. The persistent mistreatment of the Rohingyas has become increasingly evident and pronounced not just in Burma but also in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand.
In Bangladesh, ‘home’ to tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees, recent reports show that the government has stepped up its violence and crackdowns towards the Rohingya refugees. They are often arrested, beaten, and forced back into Burma where they face further persecution from the Burmese military government. In the makeshift refugee camps along the Burma-Bangladesh borders, there is little healthcare and heightened risk of violence and rape against women and children who venture out of the campgrounds to gather food or collect wood. As Paul Critchley, mission head of Doctors Without Borders put it, “All they can legally do in Bangladesh is starve to death.”
One makeshift camp alone holds over 30,000 refugees, and there are increasing concerns about sanitation and nourishment. Chris Lewa, Director of the Arakan Project, said, “Hunger is spreading rapidly among the already malnourished population in the makeshift camp and a grave humanitarian crisis is looming.” Critchley added that “as camp numbers continue to swell, conditions pose a significant risk to people’s health.” Click here for the full report from Doctors Without Borders
The Bangladesh government claims it is within the law to arrest those in the country illegally, but these justifications are unsubstantiated and despicable. It shows a complete lack of consideration and human decency on the part of the Bangladesh government to oppress and persecute more than 200,000 people, who should be considered refugees, not criminals.
Last Thursday (February 11, 2010), the European Parliament adopted a resolution (see sections M, N & 14), calling on “the Bangladesh Government to recognize that the unregistered Rohingyas are stateless asylum seekers who have fled persecution in Burma/Myanmar and are in need of international protection, and to provide them with adequate protection, access to a livelihood and other basic services.” We call on the Bangladesh government to heed to the call of the international community and to halt its oppressive and cruel mechanisms in place against the Rohingya refugees.
As long as the lack of full citizenship rights and the neglect of the Rohingya status as refugees persist, they will continue to be pushed to the boundaries of society, a condition no people deserve.