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  • Writer's pictureChris Poray

Is the international community doing enough for the Rohingya refugees?


The Rohingya Refugee Crisis materialised in the post-colonial era when the Burmese government stripped them of their identity by refusing to recognise them as citizens of Myanmar, effectively leaving them stateless. However, the tensions which led to the crisis transpired during its colonial period. The British, looking to expand their empire, had taken over the whole of Burma by 1885, clashing with the local Burmese population. Despite this, the British did not exercise such hostilities with their dealings with the ethnic minorities, going as far as relying on the minorities for the British Burma Army. Furthermore, the economic policies administered by the British favoured the use of rice fields in southern Burma and the workforce constituted of Muslim immigrants from Bengal, who eventually settled in Arakan (present day Rakhine) and came to be known as the Rohingyas.

The British rule and their favouring of the ethnic minorities, by putting them in positions of power and trying to recalibrate the social order, resulted in a rise of staunch nationalism amongst the Burmese which eventually developed into discriminatory policies. This nationalist sentiment gained traction and momentum during the Second World War which led to Japanese intervention, during which the Arakanese Muslims, the Rohingyas, remained loyal to the British while the Arakanese Buddhists sided with the Japanese. Following the withdrawal of both the Japanese and the British from Myanmar, the Rohingyas were left unprotected against the nationalist Burmese attitudes. The Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities have since faced an avalanche of racist and discriminatory policies, to the point where the government refused to recognise them as citizens and have been categorised as illegal immigrants in their own state as the government refused to recognise the Rohingyas as an ethnicity. These prejudicial attitudes continued into the 90s, and by this point more than 200,000 refugees had already escaped to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The conflict escalated in 2012, when the Rohingyas were accused of raping and murdering a Rakhine Buddhist woman which led to the killing of multiple Rohingya men. This led to both the communities clashing, leaving hundreds of people killed, and numerous arson and gang violence. The government intervened to control the ‘intercommunal violence’, however, their only intention was to displace hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas and send them to Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps which have been compared to concentration camps. The government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi created ‘Muslim Free Zones’ to further ostracise the Rohingyas. In response to the torture and attacks by the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) planned an attack and killed 13 National Border Police personnel which only led to more violence towards the Rohingya and their eventual escape to Bangladesh. According to the UNHCR, as of 2022, around 950,000 Rohingyas are currently living in Bangladesh, also fleeing to other south Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines. However, Bangladesh has faced the brunt of it and the situation worsened due to their poor economic state and extremely high population. Those who have fled face extremely rough conditions in the refugee camps and those who remained in Myanmar continue to regularly have their human rights violated.

Is the international community doing enough?

The United Nations Resolution (A/RES/60/1) passed by the UN General Assembly in the 2005 World Summit affirmed that states have the responsibility to ‘protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’ (para. 138). The resolution further declared that states have a collective responsibility to ensure this, meaning they must take appropriate measures to ensure other states are not in breach of this resolution. Additionally, as a last resort measure, with the approval of the UN Security Council, states can use force to ensure the compliance of the resolution should other peaceful measures fail. However, given that the Bangladeshi government is failing to properly accommodate the refugees and the genocidal acts by the Burmese government, the international community has a responsibility to intervene. Even though Bangladesh has received financial aid, there is a lack of physical space to accommodate the influx of refugees given Bangladesh’s high population of 169 million which is also rapidly growing. In December 2022, following the visit of US Assistant Secretary of the US Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes, only 24 refugees were flown to the US, which is almost inconsequential as there are almost a million refugees living with inadequate resources in the refugee camps.

The UN in the past has acted as a ‘surrogate state’ when countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa were unable to look after the refugees in their states. Albeit this responsibility shift being a difficult process, it is necessary. The government of Bangladesh has implemented questionable policies towards the crisis, with scrutiny being made towards NGO workers by the government. Meanwhile foreign aid workers faced difficulties with visas and documentation to work with the refugees, with the Bangladeshi government attempting to restrict communication, refusing access to the internet and threatening refugees with arrest in case they are caught with a mobile phone in their possession. The government went as far as denying the refugees the ability to leave the camps and banning multiple NGOs and relief organisations. With Myanmar’s genocidal tendencies, coupled with Bangladesh’s controversial policies and insufficient resources, it is essential for the international community to intervene for these refugees. It is evident from the past, that the UN has the capacity to do more and so far, has only expressed their concern for the Rohingyas. Although the UNHCR has been working with the Bangladeshi government to abate the situation, the government’s participation has only made this process harder. Simply put, the international community needs to actively take steps to find resolutions for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis. The refugees need not only financial aid, but for third-party states to intervene and perhaps offer relocation to their respective states to simply protect their most basic human rights.

About the writer

Ilma Khaled recently graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Security and International Law. Having done her undergraduate in Politics and International Relations, she has developed a keen interest in public international law, mainly in international human rights law and the law of armed conflicts.

Throughout her time at university, she conducted thorough research on the Rohingya Refugee crisis and has become passionate about raising awareness about the situation and aims to assist in finding a possible resolution for the conflict.


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