Risks of Muslim pressure over Rohingya

Hari Kumar says the focus should be onfellow Islamic nation Bangladesh, not Myanmar

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 August, 2012, 9:18pm

Leaders of the Muslim world are putting pressure on Myanmar over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in the country and calling for urgent action by the government.

A UN special human rights rapporteur had earlier raised concerns about reports of extrajudicial killings and torture after clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

A delegation from the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation led by Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, visited Myanmar and urged President Thein Sein to look into the matter.

Saudi Arabia went further, accusing Myanmar of ethnic cleansing. The country's cabinet urged the "international community to take up its responsibilities by providing needed protection and quality of life to Muslims in Myanmar".

Meanwhile, protesters belonging to various Islamic organisations have rallied in front of Myanmar embassies in the region to voice similar sentiments.

While the concerns raised by these countries and Muslim leaders are understandable, what is puzzling is their inability to persuade Bangladesh, a fellow Muslim country, to adopt a more humanitarian approach to the fleeing Rohingya refugees.

Bangladesh has turned away boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya fleeing the violence in Myanmar and the government has stopped three international charities, including Britain's Muslim Aid, from helping them. Dhaka fears that help from these agencies might act as a magnate and draw more refugees.

About 30,000 Rohingya are registered refugees living in two Bangladeshi camps run by the UN. But Dhaka says their actual number is 10 times that figure. With Bangladesh not allowing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to register them as refugees, most remain as stateless illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, Myanmar classifies the Rohingya as Bengali Muslims who entered from Bangladesh, and does not recognise them as citizens of Myanmar.

Shunned by both Myanmar and Bangladesh, many Rohingya take to rickety boats and try to reach safer shores of other countries to escape their plight. In 2010, this paper highlighted the inhuman treatment Rohingya boatpeople received from Thai officials who towed their boats out to the deep seas and set them adrift, resulting in many deaths.

Decades of discrimination have made the United Nations label Rohingya as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey should be lauded for taking up their causes. But viewing their woes with a religious tint will not help their cause; it will only enhance animosity against them in mainly Buddhist Myanmar.

Hari Kumar is a Post journalist