As the Myanmar/Burma government has begun to ease on the violence against the Muslim Rohingya — as the mass majority of them have fled into Bangladesh — the spotlight has begun to shift. The government has more recently started to target the mostly Christian Kachin in the northern parts of the country, and violence has erupted there, displacing thousands of civilians once again.
There are two narratives in regards to the repatriation of the Rohingya people into Rakhine State and the rebuilding of the war-torn part of the nation. The narrative of the government and the narrative of the outsiders and local people — outsiders including various private aid organizations and NGOs, the U.N., and other countries.
Approximately 700,000 Rohingya people fled from the crisis, and are now crammed into refugee camps just over the western border in Bangladesh (added to the previously existing population from past conflicts, that amounts to around 900,000 total refugees). Some estimates say that now 90% of the Myanmar Rohingya population have been driven from their homes into Bangladesh, not to mention the heavy casualties they sustained on their way out. The U.N. described the violence toward them as “textbook ethnic cleansing,” which were initially spurred by several attacks by Rohingya militants on Myanmar police and military checkpoints (a product of the longstanding conflict between the government and the ethnic minorities around the country). The government retaliated with a brutal campaign primarily directed at Rohingya civilians.
After a substantial amount of international criticism, the Myanmar government has constantly been promising repatriation efforts in order to return the Rohingya to the place they’ve called home for generations (including holding seats in parliament). However, these “efforts” have produced little fruit. Despite the lack of documentation many refugees may have (many of them had to run with what they had on their backs at the time), there are also certain legal issues that might prevent huge swaths of Rohingya from being repatriated, even if they were born there, their parents were born there, and even their grandparents were born in Myanmar.
Human Rights Watch puts it this way:
The stipulations of the Burma Citizenship Law governing the right to one of the three types of Burmese citizenship effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality. Despite being able to trace Rohingya history to the eighth century, Burmese law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the national races.”
Under this logic, Myanmar could express a humanitarian willingness to repatriate the Rohingya, appeasing the international community, and yet exclude most Rohingya from actually re-entering the country. To this effect, the U.N. has also pointed out the facade of Myanmar authorities — claiming to make efforts to repatriate the Rohingya, and yet providing little-to-no fruit in those endeavors.
The Myanmar government has long used the tactics of protracted conflict to their advantage. If the international interest begins to wane, then they will not feel so compelled to allow an actual, significant repatriation of Rohingya Muslims who have lived there for generations.
Myanmar has also shown a willingness to rebuild Rakhine State, the state where the Rohingya lived up until late 2017, early 2018. The Rohingya are not the only people from there — the area is mostly populated with Rakhine people, as well as Kaman, Mro, and Khami. While these people-groups were not targeted like the Rohingya, they were still severely affected by all the fighting.
The Myanmar government realizes the eye of the world is on them, and so their efforts to “rebuild Rakhine State” sound great to a lot of people. However, it’s important to remember that all of this potential rebuilding excludes the Rohingya until they are actually repatriated in numbers that exceed small, highly publicized batches from time to time.
Several countries have jumped on board — particularly Thailand — in this reconstruction project, and they seek help from other countries. However, it’s up to those countries whether or not they want to contribute to a facade of reconstruction, or if they want to bolster first the repatriation of those who were expelled from their homes, and then begin to rebuild.
Featured image: In this June 29, 2018, photo, Rohingya refugees gather at their camp seen through a fence during a government-organized media tour to a no man’s land between Myanmar and Bangladesh, near Taungpyolatyar village, Maung Daw, northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. Ten months after a government security operation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state sparked a humanitarian crisis that sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, at least 5,000 Rohingya Muslims are still living in a no man’s land between the two countries. While Myanmar has built a border fence that prevents them from returning to their villages inside the country, the refugees have decided not to enter Bangladesh. | AP Photo/Min Kyi Thein