Last year (2018) was bad for the Rohingya community in Myanmar. Despite multiple initiatives from the UN, individual countries and human rights groups, the Rohingyas remained helpless during 2018. Will 2019 be better for them? Is there a light at the start of the new year? Will the situation change for them within Myanmar? Will the immediate neighbours - Bangladesh, India and Thailand work together and address the Rohingya situation with a humane gesture? Finally, will, the international community act decisively and make a change in 2019 for the helpless Rohingyas?
Rohingya in 2018: A Review
According to the UN, the Rohingya are the most prosecuted in the world. 2018 witnessed several UN initiatives for getting access into the northern Rakhine region of Myanmar, to get a better understanding. There was also a MoU with Myanmar, for the State to assure the return of those refugees willing to return. The Rohingya community received global sympathies; there was an international criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi, and even some of her awards were stripped.
However, neither the UN efforts nor the global sympathies have improved their condition nor resolved the conflict.
Worse, the opposite happened in 2018. In Myanmar, the situation remains the same with a lukewarm response from the government that is attempting to balance between international pressure and military. Outside Myanmar, some of the Rohingyas were deported from India. In Bangladesh, they have been protesting against the forced deportation which is in the pipeline in 2019.
Rohingya in 2019: Will there be Change?
In Myanmar, the hatred towards the Rohingya is not only predominant among the Rakhine Buddhists and Tatmadaw (Myanmarese army) but also among the other Myanmarese. The international focus and the criticism of Myanmar have not been well received within. Most of them consider it as an interference in their national affairs, and partial towards the Rohingya. Finally, a section still justifies the military action in 2017, as anti-terrorist.
Additionally, there is still a prevalent belief that ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) is a ‘terrorist’ organization which is still active. With this, neither the army nor the Rakhine Buddhist is willing to accept any Rohingya to come back to the state. Even those Rohingyas, living in the camps of Bangladesh or India and Thailand are aware of the situation and the hatred towards them, which is not addressed.
Hence, it will be difficult to imagine that in 2019 there will be a solution to this crisis. There can be forced deportation. But the deportations will not resolve either the Rohingya problem within Myanmar or address the concerns of neighbours - Bangladesh, India, Thailand and rest of the region.
Bangladesh shares the border with the northern Rakhine province and has received the largest number of influx. If the government successfully deport Rohingyas to Myanmar in 2019 and pretend to resolve the problem, it will be naivety on their part. Since 1990, Bangladesh has been witnessing the Rohingya influx. Although some of them were deported back to Myanmar in the 90s, with the assurance of peace and respectable living however the 2016 and 2017 violence have forced some these deported people back to Bangladesh along with others in order to save their lives.
Deportation is not a solution to the problem but will push the already prosecuted community to the brink. Not only Bangladesh, but India has also failed to understand this. Unlike Bangladesh, the present government in India does not sympathise with the condition of the community and see them as a national security threat. In 2018, a small number of the Rohingyas were deported back to Myanmar. The situation will be the same in India if the present Government will retain power in the upcoming 2019 General elections. In case of change of government, there may be hope for the Rohingya who have taken refuge in India since 2010.
Fortunately, there has been no initiative on behalf of Thai government for deporting the Rohingya settled within their borders. But given the scenario and attitude of India, it could have a repercussion and may also lead the Thai government to perceive deportation as a solution. This will be detrimental, as Thai borders have not only provided refuge to the Rohingya but also to several other ethnic and religious community in Myanmar who are the victims of conflict with Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups.
Will the global community do more in 2019?
The fact that Saudi Arabia has recently deported dozens of Rohingyas to Bangladesh paints a bleak picture. This is a severe blow to the hopes for international support. If Saudi Arabia does not stand for the cause of the Rohingyas, who else will.
Within Southeast Asia, Malaysia has been the stalwart of the Rohingya cause. The Mahathir government during 2018 has been busy resolving the internal problems of Myanmar. Hence, there could be a lack of attention required towards addressing the Rohingya crisis within Southeast Asia.
The ASEAN has discussed the issue in several meetings; however, it has failed to both implement any action or to push Myanmar (an ASEAN member) take any step to resolve the crisis. The inability to resolve the crisis is one of the biggest failures of the regional grouping, which doesn’t promise to change even in 2019.
To conclude, there is not likely to be much support for the Rohingya from the Islamic countries. The two regions – South Asia and Southeast Asia are also not likely to be of great help. As a result, the UN will remain the biggest hope for the improvement of the Rohingya condition. Will the UN stand up and do more for the Rohingya in 2019?
BOX: The UN is likely to be the biggest hope for the Rohingya in 2019. But will the UN stand up and do more?