When a people are under threat they stay in their homes and try to avoid trouble. When their situation becomes unbearably dangerous they leave their homes and become refugees. The large numbers of people displaced from Myanmar’s Rakhine State to neighbouring countries is a red flag for how dangerous it has become to be a Rohingya in Myanmar. The flow of refugees into Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand had reached crisis proportions even before the infamous crackdown that began in October of 2016. The outcome of this is an estimated 420,000 refugees and 120,000 internally displaced within Myanmar since 2012.
The words that have been used to describe the Rohingya’s plight have included ‘forced displacement’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’. The response of the Myanmar government has been to deny any claims of wrongdoing by the army or to say that the claims are exaggerated. What is clear, from reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group (amongst others) is that a major human rights violation has taken place and is continuing. This is enough to warrant the world’s attention, even without proof of the more serious allegations of genocide, as reports of murder and rape on a large scale have been documented. This is what makes people leave, but the refugee sea routes out of Myanmar are dangerous, worse so than those taken in the Mediterranean, with the refugees in the hands of people traffickers, meaning exploitation and child marriage.
That there was a serious of terrorist attacks, provoked by years of oppression, is undeniable and these acted as a trigger for the current violence, but the situation in the Rakhine State is hardly one of a battle between an army and insurgents. It is in fact the systematic and cruel crushing of any form of dissent and is fundamentally one sided in nature. This is not a war, nor an insurgency, as has happened elsewhere in Myanmar and previously in Rakhine State, but a blatant military crackdown on a people whom the state has historically refused to recognise, thus encouraging Buddhist nationalists to see them as foreign and inferior. Myanmar, whose de facto leader is a former Nobel Peace Laureate, is undergoing a transition to democracy in a state still dominated by the military. There has been a commitment to resolving the numerous insurgencies that have beset what is a multicultural state. This is the right track for a reforming government to take. Forced displacement isn’t. What was needed in Rakhine State was a defusing of the tensions between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine, not a major military crackdown that has benefited one side over the other.
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Dr Carl Turner,