Laura Truesdell, Blog Writer

The Rohingya are no strangers to risking their lives in unsafe, rickety boats to seek safety. Those who have followed their plight would not be surprised to see members of this persecuted Muslim minority making a desperate journey across the sea seeking refuge from the threats faced in their own homes in Myanmar. With protection not forthcoming from neighbouring states, Myanmar’s new government, or the international community, the very future of the Rohingya people is at risk. 

An ethnic conflict has engulfed Myanmar for decades, and the country is often cited as one of the most dangerous places on the planet for religious minorities.  A shocking new study produced by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) has highlighted that the international community is running out time to prevent the final stages of genocide of the Rohingya people. This is further evidenced by the doubling of the number of people making the perilous journey across the Gulf of Bengal from this same time last year. With few Asian nations signed on to the 1951 Refugee Convention, receiving States are struggling to establish procedures to manage the overwhelming numbers of the Rohingya arriving at their borders.  As a result Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, are increasingly turning the refugees back to sea, offering no protection, and effectively closing their borders. Due to the longevity of Myanmar’s instability, and the prevalence of attention being given to conflicts elsewhere, reports on the crisis rarely reach mainstream media.  This silence from the international community contributes to the discrimination of the Rohingya people, and makes their plight for protection that much more insurmountable.

Despite the need to focus on and address the root causes of the Rohingya’s flight, including the atrocities committed by the military, Myanmar’s recent return to the headlines has been based on Aung San Suu Kyi’s electoral victory.  Focusing solely on the positive, the international community has heralded Aung San Suu Kyi’s election as a victory for human rights, and are moving towards relaxing economic sanctions. Even if Aung San Suu Kyi is able to overcome the clause in the 2008 Constitution rendering her ineligible for the presidency as a mother of two children who hold British Citizenship, the military of Myanmar remain incredibly powerful. In addition to placing the judiciary and police outside elected government authority, the 2008 Constitution guarantees the military a percentage of parliamentary seats, power to select prominent government ministers, and the ability to set and manage their own budget. However the most distressing issue for Myanmar is the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi continues to remain silent on the Rohingya crisis. Sadly this is hardly surprisingly given that her electoral victory was secured by the majority Buddhist voters.  As such, there is little hope that the new government, whichever form it shall take, will be able to offer any protection for the Rohingya.

Stateless, adrift at sea, and increasingly hopeless, the Rohingya will have to go to desperate lengths to find a country that will protect them. While the eyes of the international community remain focused on Aung San Suu Kyi’s negotiations to secure the presidency, the Rohingya are facing annihilation and systematically being erased from history. Time is running out, and there is no one to protect them.

To learn more about the Rohingya crisis see STAND Canada’s policy research on Myanmar by clicking here.

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