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Myanmar’s Rohingya Tribe Has Nowhere to Go

Posted April. 18, 2009 09:22,   


The Rohingya tribe, the Asian counterpart of Palestinians wandering around Southeast Asia, is a hot topic in Asia.

Ministers from more than 40 countries gathered in the Indonesian resort of Bali Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the troubled tribe amid a spate of incidents.

The Thai navy expelled more than 1,000 Rohingya boat people who illegally entered Thailand aboard a boat with no engine. More than half of them reportedly drowned, and some 200 were spotted and rescued by the Indonesian navy at sea. Indonesia also sought to expel the refugees to Myanmar, but decided to accommodate them at refugee camps in the face of strong international criticism.

Rohingyas are Sunni Muslims who mainly reside in Myanmar’s Arakan region. An estimated 700,000 to 1.4 million Rohingyas reside in the region. Rohingyas say they are descendants of Arab merchants who settled in Myanmar around the ninth century. Myanmar’s junta, however, says the tribe is descendants of Indian Muslims taken by the British to Myanmar as laborers in the mid-19th century.

Rohingyas are the most discriminated among some 130 ethnic minorities in Myanmar because they are Muslims living in a Buddhist country.

The junta does not consider them citizens. They have no IDs, passports or land ownership rights. In effect they have no nationality. Worse, they are not allowed to move to other villages without permission. As a result, Rohingyas who have left Myanmar says soldiers often raided their villages and committed a flurry of atrocities.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 1978 and 1991. Bangladesh is accommodating the refugees at two camps with support from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, but they live a hellish life with no jobs or education at the camps as well.

Rohingyas head for better shores on boats at great risk to their lives, but they are expelled or discriminated wherever they go. Moreover Myanmar is rejecting their repatriation, saying they are not Myanmar citizens. For this reason, more than 100,000 Rohingyas are struggling to survive at tent camps with no hope in border areas between Thailand and Myanmar.

The Rohingya problem was an agenda item at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Thailand in late February. Because of Myanmar`s refusal to acknowledge the tribe in the country, however, association member nations failed to reach an accord.

This has forced the doomed tribe to become boat people in waters in Southeast Asia.