Human rights group says ‘citizenship scrutiny’ has gradually limited Rohingya rights in Myanmar and at the root of the crisis.
The National Verification Card (NVC) scheme targetting Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims is part of a systematic campaign by Myanmar authorities to erase their identity, according to a new report by Fortify Rights published on Tuesday.
The human rights organization says the NVC process and denial of citizenship fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in its probe into crimes against the minority group, which was initiated last year.
“The Myanmar government is trying to destroy the Rohingya people through an administrative process that effectively strips them of basic rights,” Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights, said in a statement by email.
“This process and its impacts lie at the root of the Rohingya crisis, and until it’s addressed, the crisis will continue.”
The report: Tools of Genocide: National Verification Cards and the Denial of Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar examines the series of alternative identification documents given to the Rohingya in Myanmar over the past few decades, alleging “citizenship scrutiny” processes have progressively limited their rights including freedom of movement, access to education and livelihoods and freedom of expression.
“The NVC process is just another reiteration of discriminatory cards that have been given out over the years to the Rohingya,” John Quinley III, author of the report and a human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, told Al Jazeera.
Under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, only people belonging to one of 135 national ethnic groups identified by the state are accorded citizenship.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen today said 41 non-government organizations (NGOs) have been withdrawn from all kinds of activities in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps for their wrongdoings.
A total of 139 NGOs have been operating in the Rohingya camps since the Rohingya crisis began in August 2017, he said.
The Foreign Minister came up with the information while inaugurating waste management activities at Dakshin Surma under Sylhet City Corporation.
Dr. Momen also said actions will be taken against NGOs if they do something going beyond their terms and references.
The NGO Affairs Bureau on Thursday suspended six different projects being run out of the Cox’s Bazar branch of an NGO called Mukti – on allegations of making sharp weeding tools for distribution among Rohingyas.
Some 600 of these tools were allegedly made. An official suspension order signed by the Assignment Officer of NGO Affairs Bureau Sirajul Islam Khan was issued on Wednesday.
On August 29, the Foreign Minister said action will be taken against the NGOs operating in Rohingya camps if the evidence is found about their activities that go beyond the terms and references.
“We’ll surely take action against those NGOs if we get evidence or proof that they’re involved in any political or instigative activities (inside Rohingya camps),” he told reporters at state guesthouse the Padma after briefing diplomats over the latest Rohingya situation.
To the casual observer, Tammana Bibi could be any child celebrating a first birthday. She’s surrounded by loving friends and family and giggling happily with a toy in hand.
But she isn’t like any other child.
Tammana is a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar and she was born in the world’s largest refugee camp where almost a million people are packed into shelters barely one arm’s length apart.
Many children might celebrate their first birthday in the park, but Tammana and her friends play in front of their shelter made from bamboo and tarpaulin.
Instead of a large birthday cake, Tammana receives a small packet of biscuits.
Instead of a private occasion with family and friends, her gathering is visible to the gaze of hundreds of people who are passing through her family’s small section of the camp each hour.
A second anniversary
As Tammana celebrates a year of life in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar camp, her mother Sahara Khatoun, 28, is also marking a milestone: two years since she fled with her husband from their home in Myanmar, walking for days and days to escape attacks by Burmese forces and reach safety.
Life as they knew it was over.
Rohingya families like Tammana’s experienced decades of persecution in Myanmar before a violent crackdown in 2017 forced them to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
When the Rohingya reached Cox’s Bazar, the most impoverished district of Bangladesh, many in the local community opened their arms and doors, sharing what they had with the waves of refugees flooding in.
Most Bangladeshi locals farm small plots of land or work as fishermen.
When hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar into Bangladesh two years ago, local communities were mostly welcoming.
Today that welcome has worn thin, and resentment, anger and fear are creeping in.
“At first, as a member of the Muslim community, we helped them,” said Riazul Haque, 28, a labourer from Hakimpara, near the border town of Ukhiya.
Haque allowed around 60 Rohingya families to settle on a piece of his land, thinking they would remain for two or three months at most.
“Now it seems the rest of the Rohingya living in Burma (Myanmar) will arrive soon in Bangladesh,” he complained.
Ukhiya was home to around 300,000 people, but the refugee influx of August 2017 has swelled the population to more than three times that many.
Most of the refugees are housed in the sprawling Kutupalong camp, but others – particularly those with resources – ventured out in search of opportunity.
Locals blame them for everything from increased pollution and a rise in petty crime, to a lack of work.
Mohammad Sojol said he lost his job as a rickshaw driver because vehicle owners now prefer to hire refugees for less pay – even though officially they aren’t allowed to work.
“They are stealing marginal jobs from us by bribing law enforcers,” he told AFP.
Myanmar and Bangladesh will start a fresh attempt next week to repatriate thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, officials said on Thursday, nearly a year after a major attempt failed.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine for neighbouring Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown in August 2017 the United Nations has said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent”, but many refugees refuse to go back, fearing more violence.
A total of 3,540 refugees have been cleared for return by Myanmar from a list of more than 22,000 names recently sent by Bangladesh, officials from both countries told Reuters.
The first group of refugees would return to Myanmar next week, providing any agree to go back.
“We have agreed to the repatriation of 3,540 people on August 22,” Myint Thu, a spokesman for Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters by phone.
Previous attempts at persuading Rohingya to return to Rakhine have failed due to opposition from refugees. An effort in November sowed fear and confusion in the camps, and finally failed after refugee protests.
A senior Bangladeshi official told Reuters the new effort was a “small-scale” repatriation plan, adding that nobody will be forced to return.
“Bangladesh wants nothing but a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Mohammed Eleyas, a Rohingya activist with the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said refugees had not been consulted about the process.
Myanmar should agree to the key demands of the community before repatriation begins, he said in a message.
Myanmar and Bangladesh will soon make a second attempt to start repatriating Rohingya Muslims, 700,000 of whom fled a security crackdown in Myanmar almost two years ago, officials from the two countries and the United Nations said Friday.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay, speaking in his country’s capital, Naypyitaw, said the parties concerned had agreed that the process would begin next Thursday.
Bangladesh Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam said the identities of the refugees have been confirmed by Myanmar and they could go back there if they want.
Speaking in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, he said the government had ordered local officials in Cox’s Bazar district to locate those on the list in the four refugee camps there, but their repatriation would only happen if they want to return voluntarily.
He said Bangladesh is ready to provide support to any refugees who wish to return home, but also would not use force to make them go back.
Caroline Gluck, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Associated Press that the Bangladesh government has asked for its help in verifying 3,450 people who signed up for voluntary repatriation. She said the list was whittled down from 22,000 names that Bangladesh had sent to Myanmar for verification.
Leaders of the Rohingya refugee community in the camps said they had not been consulted on the matter and were unaware of plans for any imminent return.
Myanmar’s military in August 2017 launched a counterinsurgency campaign in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The army operation led to the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh and accusations that security forces committed mass rapes, killings and burned thousands of homes.
The U.N.-established Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Myanmar has rejected the report and any suggestion its forces did anything wrong.
Myanmar and Bangladesh are to make a fresh attempt to begin repatriating the Rohingya Muslims who fled ethnic cleansing in Rahkine state in 2017, though the community say they have not been consulted.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled over to border to Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown in Rahkine state which saw villages razed, women raped and thousands killed. A UN fact-finding mission declared the violence had “genocidal intent”.
A document prepared by UN agency UNHCR to be sent to the Rohingya community to inform them of the repatriation plan said: “The Government of Myanmar has confirmed that 3,450 Rohingya refugees are eligible to return. This is a welcome first step as it acknowledges that your right to return is recognized.”
According to UNHCR, the Bangladesh government shared the names of Rohingya approved for repatriation with the UN agency on 8 August.
Louise Donovan, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Cox’s Bazar, said: “If any express the intention to return voluntarily, UNHCR will meet with them on an individual basis and in a confidential setting to confirm the voluntariness of their decision and complete a voluntary repatriation form. The refugees will make the decision themselves.”
She emphasised that “refugees who decide to exercise their right to return must be able to return to their places of origin or a place of their choice.”
However, the situation is complex as UNHCR have no access to Rahkine state so are unable to verify first hand the conditions the Rohingya would be returning to. “Responsibility for ensuring conditions are conducive for safe and dignified return rests with Myanmar,” said Donovan.
No school might seem like the dream for most British children but for young Rohingya refugees, they want nothing more than to get back into education to pursue their dreams.
Christian development agency Tearfund is working in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh, home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims and their children who have fled persecution in Myanmar.
Boredom is a real problem for the thousands of youngsters in the camp who are unable to access education and are struggling to fill their hours each day.
Tearfund has set up clubs and safe spaces for young people to come and draw, learn some simple math, talk to trained trauma counsellors, and play.
With the children unable to attend local Bangladeshi schools, the interruption to their education has proved a major challenge, in addition to the boredom.
In response to the need, Tearfund has started work on a new curriculum for them to follow that focuses on life skills, including business and leadership training.
James Rana, Rohingya Response Manager for Tearfund, said: “A whole generation of Rohingya children have no opportunity to pursue their dreams, and a future of poverty becomes more and more likely.
“For them, it seems school’s out permanently, not just for summer.
“We are working to provide skills and fun for the children, as well as vital relief to families, who are living through such a difficult time.”
Kobir Ahmed, a 15-year-old in Cox’s Bazar whose real name has been changed for security reasons, admitted that he didn’t like living in the camp.
Bob Rae is special envoy to Myanmar, senior counsel at OKT LLP, and teaches public policy and law at the University of Toronto. He was previously the premier of Ontario and a federal member of Parliament.
Two years ago this August, the world was shocked by brutal, tragic images coming out of Myanmar. Under the guise of a military effort in the northern Rakhine province, the evidence piled up to expose a deep humanitarian crisis: systematic violence, rape, burning of villages and the killing of some 10,000 Rohingya people who make up the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar. More than 700,000 people were forced to abandon their homes and villages, joining an earlier exodus of refugees to Bangladesh – and those refugees are still there, in a crowded muddy camp in a town on Bangladesh’s southeast coast known as Cox’s Bazar.
Today, the news cameras and Canadians’ eyes have largely turned away. But the refugees themselves do not have this luxury – and the crisis continues to this day.
Canada has done a great deal. I know firsthand, having been sent as a special envoy to Myanmar in October, 2017, and having presented my report to Canadians in April, 2018. We are among the first countries to have called this targeted violence against the Rohingya a genocide, which has sparked some progress in dealing with who should be accountable for it at the United Nations, the Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court. We have fostered ties with the small Rohingya community inside our own country. Our country’s established views on gender, sexual violence and the needs of women are widely appreciated and shared both in the international community and among the Rohingya themselves. Canada has played a leadership role.
But despite all that has been done, living conditions in Cox’s Bazar remain exceptionally difficult. Refugees are dealing with the continuing threats of harsh weather as the monsoon season hits hard. There is no reason to believe the conditions in Myanmar have improved; indeed, there is evidence that they have deteriorated. Outbreaks of violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine region between the nationalist Arakan Army and the Myanmar army known as the Tatmadaw have resulted in hundreds of deaths, injuries and a lockdown in Rakhine. The Rohingya continue to be denied any access to political dialogue about the future of Rakhine and Myanmar, if even such dialogue is occurring.