Banke Sorinwa, Blog Writer
Despite the relatively successful general elections in Myanmar earlier this month, questions about the election’s credibility remain since not all communities and groups are permitted to vote. It was reported that the Muslim Rohingya, ethnic Chinese and Indians were excluded from voting. Since the 2010 and 2012 elections, the temporary registration cards that allowed Rohingya, refugees and migrant workers to vote have expired. The Rohingya are the largest group of stateless people in the world, having been denied citizenship in Myanmar under a 1982 law, and are subject to numerous legal restrictions, including requiring permission to travel, marry or have more than two children in some areas. Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar argue that the group are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, while the Rohingya say they have lived in the country often for generations.
Being unwelcome in the only land they know as their own, in May groups of Rohingya tried, not for the first time, to seek refuge in neighboring countries but ended up trapped at sea for weeks without food or water. The Thai, Malaysia and Indonesian authorities denied entry to their vessels with Thai authorities claiming that they couldn’t permit entry to their overcrowded vessels, which they had discovered had been used for human trafficking. The United Nations reported there were at least 370 deaths while human rights groups speculated that hundreds more may have drowned. Although Malaysia and Indonesia allowed thousands of people to stay temporarily till May 2016, they still need a place to call home permanently.
Although President Barack Obama has suggested that Myanmar needs to include all people to successfully develop its economy, his administration has been reported as being unclear about their stance regarding their engagement with the military leaders of Myanmar following the violent attacks on Rohingya towns in 2013.
One humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, had made allegations of a massacre of the Rohingyas in Myanmar in early 2014. As a result of these allegations, their staff was expelled from Rakhine State. Next, orchestrated mobs attacked offices of other NGOs and as a consequence, over 700,000 Rohingya no longer have any medical care. The few hospitals in the area are believed to mistreat and turn away extremely ill Rohingya, and most choose to die rather than risk abuse.
In a time when ethnic clashes seem unending and the Rohingya refugee crisis is merely one refugee crisis on the rise and in the news, it is imperative that the leaders of Myanmar are quick to act and if they cannot do it alone, to call for the international community’s assistance. If the Rohingya continue to face segregation and rejection at home and abroad, then what options of refuge are available to them?
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