Myanmar Buddhists Protest Against Repatriation of Rohingya Refugees

By Anne Wisman
Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-10-24 |
Rohingya refugees waiting at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. From reuters.comRohingya refugees waiting at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. From

Hundreds of protesters, led by hardline Buddhist monks, took to the streets in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State on Sunday to protest the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims who have fled a recent rash of violence and unrest, after the country's de fact leader Aung San Suu Kyi pledged that the thousands of refugees who fled to neighboring Bangladesh could return. The protests took place in the state capital Sittwe, the former home of many Rohingya who were forced out of the city in 2012.

Since the eruption of violence, on 25 August this year, an estimated 600,000 Rohingya and 30,000 non-Muslims have fled military clearance operations and attacks by Buddhist mobs in Rakhine, seeking temporary refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.

Fleeing refugees have reported that their villages were burned down by military forces, and that both the military and Rakhine Buddhist mobs have been involved in the rape and murder of Rohingya Muslims during a brutal campaign that the United Nations has described as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

Earlier this month, the government of Myanmar announced that it was in talks with bangladeh over the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, and that it has agreed to set up a joint working group to facilitate the process.

According to government officials, returning Rohingya will have to prove that they are Myanmar residents, however few refugees are thought to be in possession of such documentation, mainly because Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its official ethnic groups, instead classifying them as stateless foreign migrants or illegal Bengali migrants from Bangladesh, even though many families have lived in Myanmar for generations. 

Hardline Buddhists, both lay and monastic, protest against the Rohingya in Sittwe, Myanmar. From Buddhists, both lay and monastic, protest against the Rohingya in Sittwe, Myanmar. From

One of the organizers of the protest, Aung Htay, commented that he would welcome any citizens back in the state, “But if these people [the repatriated Rohingya] don't have the right to be citizens     . . . the government's plan for a conflict-free zone will never be implemented." (The Island Packet)

He later added, “What I want to tell the government is that there are many terrorists among the Bengalis [self-identifying Rohingya] who fled to Bangladesh. If they are included in the repatriation program, we worry about the potential for a recurrence of conflict. The [Rakhine Buddhist] public cannot accept any such repatriation process. That’s why we are protesting.” (DVB)

Buddhist monk and fellow demonstration leader, U Dhamika, said, “We do not want to coexist with those people.” (DVB)

While the repatriation plans are not yet finalized, Myanmar officials have noted that returning Rohingya Muslims are unlikely to be able to reclaim their farmland, and may find that the Myanmar government has harvested and sold their crops. And even though some Rohingya might have proof of ownership of certain plots of land, it will likely be forfeited to the government if they cannot prove they hold Myanmar citizenship. As Kyaw Lwin, agriculture minister in Rakhine State,  remarked in an interview: “It depends on them. There is no land ownership for those who don’t have citizenship.” (Reuters)

Religious tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar have simmered for almost half a century. Rakhine State—where Rohingya Muslims make up the majority in the north and Buddhists the majority in the south—has been the epicenter of the unrest. Outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in 2012 displaced 140,000 people, predominantly Rohingya. Most were resettled in squalid camps where they are subject to severe restrictions, with limited access to education, healthcare, or employment opportunities. On 25 August this year, Rohingya insurgents attacked 30 police stations and an army base in a series of raids, armed with guns, sticks, and homemade explosives. In response to these organized attacks, the Myanmar army commenced with what has been termed a ferocious counteroffensive that has reportedly left more than 600.000 people displaced and many dead.

See more

Hundreds of Buddhists in Myanmar protest against Rohingya return (Sky News)
Arakan Buddhists rally against the return of Muslim refugees (DVB)
Buddhists protest to urge Myanmar not to repatriate Rohingya (The Island Packet)
Exclusive: Returning Rohingya may lose land, crops under Myanmar plans (Reuters)

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