2015 Rohingya refugee crisis
The 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis refers to the mass migration of thousands of Rohingya people from Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Bangladesh in 2015, collectively dubbed "boat people" by international media. Nearly all who fled traveled to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand by rickety boats via the waters of the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 25,000 people have been taken to boats from January to March in 2015 by human traffickers. There are claims that, while on their journey, around 100 people died in Indonesia, 200 in Malaysia, and 10 in Thailand, after the traffickers abandoned them at sea.
In October 2015, researchers from the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London released a report drawing on leaked government documents that reveals an increasing "ghettoisation, sporadic massacres, and restrictions on movement" on Rohingya peoples. The researchers suggest that the Myanmar government are in the final stages of an organized process of genocide against the Rohingya and have called upon the international community to redress the situation as such.
The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority group residing in the western state of Rakhine, Myanmar, formerly known as Arakan. The religion of this ethnic group is a variation of the Sunni religion. The Rohingya people are considered “stateless entities”, as the Myanmar government does not recognize them as an ethnic groups. The Rohingya people therefore lack legal protection from the Government of Myanmar, are regarded as refugees from Bangladesh, and face strong hostility in the country. The Rohingya people have been described as one of the most persecuted people on earth. The Rohingya often try to enter Southeast Asian states illegally and request humanitarian support from host countries.
According to historians,"Rohingya have been living in Arakan (referred to the area now known as Rakhine) from time immemorial." During the British colonization of Myanmar (then Burma) between 1824 and 1948, migration of laborers from Myanmar to India and Bangladesh was significant. Bangladesh was formed in 1971 as a result of partition of India and Pakistan after 1947. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this kind of migration was considered an internal movement because the British administered Myanmar as a province of India, although the native population viewed the migration of laborers negatively. After the independence of Myanmar in 1948, the government declared this migration illegal. Citizenship was denied citizenship to the Rohingya population. The Rohingya were excluded from the Union Citizenship Act. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed that also did not include Rohingya in the list of country's 135 ethnic groups. The law established three levels of citizenship, the most basic level, naturalization, requiring proof of family living in Myanmar prior to 1948. The Rohingya generally lacked such documents as their family were initially denied citizenship. In the 1970s, the Myanmar military began a campaign of brutal crackdowns in Rohingya villages, forcing the Rohingya population to flee Myanmar. Many Rohingya migrated illegally to predominantly Buddhist Bengali villages.
On 1 May, 2015, some 32 shallow graves were discovered on a remote mountain in Thailand, at a so-called "waiting area" where illegal migrants were being held before being smuggled into Malaysia. A Bangladeshi migrant was found alive in the grave and was later treated at a local hospital, as related to Thai news agencies. On 22 May, 2015, however, the Myanmar navy rescued 208 migrants at sea. These migrants confirmed having come from Bangladesh. Following this incident, nationalist protests erupted in the capital, calling for the international community to stop blaming Myanmar for the Rohingya crisis.
On 24 May 2015, Malaysian police discovered 139 suspected graves in a series of abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma were believed to have been held.
The dominant ethnic group in the region, the Rakhine, reject the label “Rohingya”. Specific laws pertaining to this population impose restrictions on “marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement” (Albert 3). The people in Myanmar also face widespread poverty, with 78% of families living below the poverty line. Tensions between the Rohingya and the other religious groups have recently exploded into conflict. Beginning in 2012, the first incident occurred when a group of Rohingya men were accused of the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman (Albert 4). Buddhist nationalists retaliated by killing and burning Rohingya homes. The international community responded by denouncing this “campaign of ethnic cleansing.” Many Rohingya were placed in internment camps, and more than 120,000 remain housed there. In 2015, “more than 40 Rohingya were massacred in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan by local men, the U.N. confirmed. Among the findings were 10 severed heads in a water tank, including those of children” (Westcott 1).
Bangladesh is home to 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who are sheltering in two camps in the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar. Agence France-Presse reported in May 2015 that another 200,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees were living in Bangladesh, most of them near the two official camps.
According to Reuters, more than 140,000 of the estimated 800,000 to 1,100,000 Rohingya have been forced to seek refuge in displacement camps after the 2012 Rakhine State riots. To escape the systemic violence and persecution in Myanmar, an estimated 100,000 people have since fled the camps.
In late May, 2015, about 3,000 - 3,500 Rohingya refugees traveling to other countries in Southeast Asia, from Myanmar and Bangladesh, had been rescued, or had swum to shore — while several thousand more were believed to be trapped with little food or water on the boats floating at sea.
The number of Rohingya refugees in the U.S. has increased significantly since 2014. In 2015, the number of Refugees from Myanmar jumped from 650 to 2,573. Another 2,173 Rohingya refugees arrived in 2016. President Obama removed the sanctions originally imposed on Myanmar which enabled the U.S. to help more refugees. Migration to the United States from Asia rose after passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act passed in 1965. With these two acts, the quota for immigrants was lifted and Asian and Arab immigrants were once again able to come to the United States. Today the biggest population of Rohingya refugees and immigrants in the U.S. can be found in Chicago, Illinois.
Malaysia had at first refused to provide refuge to the people reaching its shore but agreed to "provide provisions and send them away". Malaysia and Indonesia later agreed to provide temporary refuge to the Rohingya.
In 2015, under the administration of President Noynoy Aquino, the Philippines government expressed their wish to provide shelter for up to 3,000 "boat people" from Myanmar and Bangladesh. As a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the country abides by the rules of international law and will provide assistance to refugees. Malacañang Palace also noted in a statement that this follows the country's harbouring and assistance to Vietnamese boat people fleeing from Vietnam in the late 1970s.
The government of The Gambia also expressed their concern and wished to take in stranded boat people saying, “it is a sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings fellow human beings are confronted with.”
Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina called her own country's economic migrants "mentally sick" and said that they could have better lives in Bangladesh, and complained they were discrediting Bangladesh by leaving.
Shortly thereafter, the Bangladeshi Government announced plans to relocate the 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who have spent years in camps near the Myanmar border (the 200,000 unregistered other refugees were not officially part of the government's relocation plan.) Initially, Thengar Char, an island 18 miles east of Hatiya Island was reportedly selected for the relocation. A subsequent report put the location as 200 hectares selected on Hatiya Island, a nine-hour, land-and-sea journey from the camps.
Mohammad Islam, a Rohingya leader living in one of the camps, asked the Bangladesh government to reconsider, citing extensive suffering already endured by the displaced Rohingyas, and insisted that they want the Bangladeshi government and international organizations to solve the Rohingya's future while the remain the current camps. The UN refugee agency that has been aiding the camp refugees, since 1991, said such a relocation would have to be voluntary if it is to succeed.
India refused to let the Rohingya refugees enter their country because it posed national security threats. However, it was found that around 40,000 Rohingya's immigrants have taken sheltered in Assam, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir. The news created a dissatisfaction among general public that Rohingya Muslim settlements in Jammu (city) will change the demography of Hindu majority and may lead to violence in the future by giving reference to the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus by Kashmiri Muslims earlier. The presence of Rohingya Muslims in Jammu is thus considered as an sensitive issue for Indian security. The Indian security establishments opinioned that “Some Rohingyas sympathizing with many militant group's ideologies may be active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat and can be a potential threat to internal security.”
On September 7, 2017 Kiren Rijiju, junior Home Minister of India have said "all the Rohingya refugees are illegal immigrants and will be deported back". He however refused to mention when, where and how they will be deported back. The statement invited criticism from United Nations on which Rijiju responded by saying "India have highest number of refugees in the entire world, hence India does not need lecture on refugee crisis and Management." On Sept 10, 2017, Ministry of External Affairs (India) on request of Govt. of Bangladesh urged Govt. of Myanmar through an official response to end violence, to restore normalcy in the State, and to "act restraint" with the issue in the Rakhine state, as many refugees flee to the neighbouring countries.
A case by the name of Muhammad Salimullah v UOI has been also filed by Rohingya Muslims to challenge the Indian government's decision to deport them back. The Supreme Court of India has stated that it will hear the arguments based only on points of law and have asked to avoid emotional arguments as the issue is related to the humanitarian cause. The court heard the case on 3rd Oct and fixed October 13 as the next hearing. Indian Government lawyer Tushar Mehta told the court during the last hearing that Rohingya refugees will add economic pressure on Indian populace and also due to their militant activities against Myanmar government can pose a security threat to an already existing militancy situation prevailing in India unleashed by such like minded organization. The last hearings happened on 31st January, 2018 where Senior Counsel Prashant Bhushan appearing for petitioners argued that Rohingya Refugees are being denied bare necessities like medical care and access to school. He also prayed that Right to Non- Refoulment (Right against expulsion) should be applied to Rohingya trying to enter India also and not just to Rohingya already living in India. The matter has been listed for 22nd Feburary, 2018.
The Rohingya Refugee crises has become a major issue for India and Bangladesh. Fleeing population blames the security forces back in Myanmar for burning their villages, rapes, and mass killings. In addition, the Rohingya Muslim population is now stateless as Myanmar rejected citizenship to Rohingya people. Myanmar does not want its 1.1m Rohingya population because they are considered as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Due to this refugee crises, refugees are entering Bangladesh and Indian territory by illegal means. Bangladesh foreign secretary Md. Shahidul Haque have said "We look forward to resolving the issue peacefully and expect that the international community will support that, especially our close friend, India."
After Bangladesh informed India about the problem of rising Rohingya Refugees, India extended its support with the "Operation Insaniyat". The word Insaniyat is an Urdu word, which means "Humanity" in English. On September 14, in response to the crises, the Government of India began "Operation Insaniyat" as Humanitarian aid to Bangladesh Government to manage the huge Rohingya refugee influx. Indian foreign ministry stated that India will provide free food materials, tea, mosquito nets and technical assistance to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Under the "Operation Insaniyat", a group of Sikh volunteers of Khalsa from India reached Bangladesh-Myanmar Border and distributed Langar (Sikhism) to thousands of refugees living in camps. On September 14, the volunteers prepared food for some 35,000 refugees. The Indian government has also sent 53 Tonnes of relief materials like ready to eat noodles, salt, biscuits, mosquito nets, pusles, sugar, etc. The relief materials were brought by the Indian air force plane to Chittagong on September 14, 2017.
Since 2002 the United States has allowed 13,000 Myanmar refugees. Chicago, home to RefugeeOne, has one of the largest populations of Rohingyas in the United States. However, even with the refugees finding safe haven in Chicago, there is still a hard life to face. The new immigrant children whose parents are not with them are easy pickings for the gangs in Chicago. “When we are selecting neighborhoods we have to be very careful about the crime rate and gang recruitment, because the majority of refugees come with kids" (Mclauglin 1).
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