By Mohammad Sadek
A decades-long crisis involving an ethnic minority called the Rohingya has been worsening not only in their country of origin, Burma or Myanmar, but also in the whole South and Southeast Asian region.
So far, no effective measures have been introduced to resolve their predicament.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees data reveals 107,520 Rohingya are registered as persons of concern with the agency and awaiting a durable solution.
The UN refugee agency is working, with the cooperation of the Malaysian government, to protect vulnerable Rohingya refugees. The refugees are in a limbo as there is no particular legislation to protect refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
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However, the government of Malaysia allows these refugees to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds.
Every single person alive has a need to enjoy a livelihood, shelter, clothing, medication, freedom of expression. But these needs among the refugees and asylum seekers are not fulfilled by any quarter and hence, the Rohingya are compelled to struggle on.
Rohingya children are deprived of formal education. To access healthcare, refugees and asylum seekers have to incur an unbearable expense. Daily living costs are also affordable for most of them, as they are usually in irregular employment. Those with a few children have to bear an even heavier burden to meet the basic needs of their families.
True, there are schools run by the community and by UNHCR-partner NGOs. But these are not enough to fulfil the refugee children’s needs. UNHCR-supported or partner NGO clinics also experience limitations in providing treatment.
Hence, effective measures from the international community to provide food rations, medical facilities, and educational and vocational training opportunities are much needed. Such measures will help the community and give them a ray of hope in their quest for a durable solution.
To develop comprehensive strategies, inclusive dialogue among the UNHCR, the government, NGOs, experts from the Rohingya and host communities is key.
Some information suggests that there are already several focal-point discussions on Rohingya refugees. But these discussions seem exclusive and thus, their effectiveness and results remain elusive.
Background of the Rohingya
The Rohingya ethnic minority group is one of the indigenous people from the western part of Arakan state Burma/Myanmar. They have been systematically victimised by Burmese/Myanmar colonialism since the late 18th Century.
Rohang/Arakan/Rakhine land was occupied by the Burmese king in 1784, resulting in bloodshed which pushed out two-thirds of the total population of Rohang (which means Rohingya) from their ancestral homeland.
When a small number of people returned to the land, they were branded as illegal immigrants through an unjust law. This law is known as the 1982 citizenship law, under which the Rohingya became de facto stateless.
As the Burmese government failed to expel the Rohingya from their land, the authorities developed an ethnic cleansing agenda. They imposed restrictions on movement from one place to another and in education. The people suffered the destruction of places of worship, rape, extortion, forced labour, forced evictions and extrajudicial killings.
Finally, the Burmese/Myanmar government conducted a genocidal operation against the Rohingya in 2017. This pushed at least 1.1 million Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh and over a hundred thousand into the Southeast Asian region, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Rohingya did not go to Burmese land, but the Burmese occupied the Rohingya land.
Ultimately, the Rohingya refugees hope that a durable solution, with the coordination of the UNHCR and host governments, will be achieved soon.
Mohammad Sadek has been a UNHCR-recognised refugee since 1992. A Burmese human rights defender, he has been involved in community transformation and grassroots development in various capacities. He is also a journalist on Burma affairs, with a focus on the Arakan and Rohingya Arakanese