ROHINGYA REPATRIATION DELAYED TILL 2019
By Alex Pollock
Bangladesh’s plans to tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis are set to be stalled until the new year with repatriation and relocation programmes only likely be revisited after year-end general elections, a top Bangladeshi official said on Sunday [18 November]. Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Reuters “a new course of action” needed to be adopted on repatriation that took into account refugees’ key demands. He later clarified these were his own personal views and not those of the government. More than 720,000 Rohingya fled a sweeping army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017, according to UN agencies. (Reuters)
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya people group is a Muslim ethnic minority that has lived in Myanmar for generations, making up the largest percentage of Muslims in the mostly Buddhist Myanmar. The majority of Myanmar sees the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which led the government to strip the Rohingya of their citizenship, making them legally stateless. The majority of the Rohingya are (or were) living in Rakhine State on the western coast of Myanmar.
History of the conflict
Over the last year, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled violence and discrimination in Myanmar to the neighboring country of Bangladesh. The conflict escalated in 2017 when a group of Rohingya insurgents, known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, carried out attacks on 30 Myanmar security posts. The Myanmar government responded with acts of violence against the Rohingya people. The government has claimed it is fighting against terrorism, but the UN has stated that the acts against the Rohingya are a “clear case of ethnic cleansing”. Hundreds of Rohingya villages were burnt, civilians were killed, and women and children were abused at the hands of the Myanmar security forces.
Acts of violence against the Rohingya by the Myanmar military forces were also carried out in the 1970s and again in the 1990s.
Repatriation of the Rohingya
Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed an agreement starting the process of the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh. However, the UN along with 42 aid agencies have voiced concern that the move is “premature” and “dangerous”. The Myanmar government has not guaranteed the freedom of movement, voting rights, or the promise of citizenship to those who return to their homes. Most of the Rohingya villages were destroyed in the military offensive last year, and many Rohingya are concerned about the housing built to replace their former residences.
Myint Khaing, the Maungdaw Township administrator in Northern Rakhine, told AFP News that the first group of refugees were set to return on 15 November. The plan was to receive 2,200 people total at a rate of 150 per day, but this now seems to be postponed. This is not the first time Myanmar and Bangladesh have attempted repatriation.
To avoid repatriation, many Rohingya have attempted the dangerous journey to Malaysia by boat, usually organised by human smugglers. Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The Rohingya are trapped. They have no where to go. Nobody wants them, and now on top of that they face the threat of repatriation.”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
The Rohingya people group is one of the least evangelised in the region, and one of the most marginalised. The Church is called to be an agent of peace and reconciliation, and in theory, the few Christian believers in Myanmar do have freedom of movement to reach the Rohingya and other religious groups. However, various sources have reported that Christians in Myanmar are also being targeted. The Kachin minority group, which is largely Christian, is facing conflict from government militias, but this has been less publicised and less drastic than the Rohingya conflict.
Please pray with us for the hearts of Christians in Myanmar to be focused on peace-making and reconciliation. Pray too that their own challenges would not keep them from reaching out to the Rohingya when they eventually do return.
- For peace between the Myanmar military and minority groups
- For the Rohingya to be exposed to Christ in a meaningful way
- For Christians in Myanmar to be motivated and strengthened to reach out