Rohingya refugees walk at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on February 2. Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in camps in Bangladesh condemn the military coup in their homeland and say it makes them more fearful of returning. A brutal counter-insurgency by Myanmar’s military in 2017 brought more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh. Shafiqur Rahman / AP Hide caption
Shafiqur Rahman / AP
Shafiqur Rahman / AP
This month’s military coup in Myanmar made the situation of Rohingya refugees even worse, human rights activists say. Now it is even less likely that hundreds of thousands will return to Myanmar from vast camps in neighboring Bangladesh.
“The coup is obviously not good for anyone,” said Matthew Smith, co-founder of the human rights group Fortify Rights. “But the Rohingya are at greater risk. This is the military regime that has been responsible for the atrocities for many, many years.”
Most recently, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border into Bangladesh in 2017 as a result of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the Myanmar military known as Tatmadaw. The military said it answered on coordinated attacks by Rohingya extremists on Myanmar security forces. One later case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague was charged with genocide.
After the February 1st military coup, the fate of the is approximate 600,000 Rohingya still living in Myanmar and all possible plans to repatriate people outside of the country are in the hands of the military, activists say.
“They have a plan to destroy us,” Ro Khin Maung, executive director of the Rohingya Youth Association in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told reporters on Monday. “Now they run our country.”
The actions of the military, Maung said, led to this past Rohingya exodes. And a 1982 law The Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim minority, are denied the right to hold citizenship in Myanmar with a Buddhist majority – even if their families have lived there for generations.
“They will torture us even more”
The repatriation process has started and stopped many times over the years, but in the days after the coup, Commander in Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, now Myanmar’s leader, vowed to move forward and promised to “protect” the Rohingya.
Bangladesh Officials who had recently started moving some Rohingya to a remote island dubbed “Rohingya Alcatraz” by human rights activists expressed hope that the repatriation processes would “continue in earnest”.
But finding a way for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar safely is difficult, says Smith.
“If there was any trace of hope of a safe, voluntary, and dignified return, it is now completely gone. Although there wasn’t much to do at first,” he says.
While few Rohingya refugees wanted to return to Myanmar before the coup, many are even more afraid of it now.
“Even if they try to repatriate us, we will not agree to go back under the current situation,” said Nurual Amin, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh. said the Associated Press. “If they bring us back to this regime, they will torture us even more.”
Laurel Miller, director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program, emailed NPR: “Even if the military leadership suggests pushing repatriation to improve their image, Rohingya is unlikely to be ready to return in any context. ” in which overall military oppression increases, not decreases. “
The coup puts the Rohingya in a difficult position, says Wai Wai Nu, a human rights activist and former political prisoner who is Rohingya. While the Rohingya would prefer to see a democratically elected leader, no government has adequately addressed their needs, she explains.
“I don’t think military dictatorship is the solution,” she says. But “Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has not been easy to work [and] did nothing to protect the Rohingya. “
“We had a lot of hopes”
Civilian rule under Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy has proved disappointing for the Rohingya, says Yasmin Ullah, a Canada-based social justice activist in Rohingya.
“At first we had high hopes when the NLD won its first term,” she says in 2015. “But over time, we realized that the civil government would never work with us.”
After the Tatmadaw’s crackdown on the Rohingya in 2017, Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remained silent, even in the face of international pressure. She went on to defend the military on allegations of genocidal crimes, including murder and rape. at the International Court of Justice in 2019.
During the hearing in The Hague, Suu Kyi admitted that the military had used “disproportionate force” in 2017, but insisted that the world had an “incomplete and misleading picture” of the situation in Rohingya.
Although working with Suu Kyi’s government on issues such as repatriation has not been easy, the situation with the relevant military is now “worse,” says Wai Wai Nu, and has put Rohingya in an “extremely worrying and dangerous” situation. The “international community should exert all pressure it can” to have Myanmar face its “fundamental problems” and heal its political and ethnic crises, she says.
On Wednesday, President Biden announced US sanctions against the coup plotters, their business interests and their close family. Some, including General Min Aung Hlaing, were already subject to sanctions for the treatment of the Rohingya by the military.
“We will freeze US assets that benefit the Burmese government while maintaining support for health care, civil society groups and other areas that directly benefit the people of Burma,” said Biden.
The president also called for Suu Kyi to be released. Although the US has made that clear Humanitarian aid to the Rohingya continuesBiden did not mention the Rohingya in his remarks – something Yasmin Ullah says was “a really missed opportunity to underline the importance of recognizing Rohingya as part of Myanmar”.