Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis is sliding dangerously backwards. The denial of civil rights, a massive land grab and an upsurge in armed fighting undermine any real hope for change.
Despite reports that some Rohingya refugees have returned to Myanmar, the suggestion that more will follow stands in stark contrast to what I witnessed recently when visiting the areas from which they fled. International solidarity with these stateless people needs a fundamental rethink. If we succeed to only administer the crisis, we will fail to ever resolve it.
In 2012, the world watched as a wave of violence pushed at least 110,000 Rohingya people in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state from their land. Families wound up in overcrowded, flood-prone displacement camps, surrounded by armed guards, with neither the permission nor security to return home. The unmaking of their communities began. They were still waiting for permission to return and security when I met them in camps outside Sittwe town at the end of October.
Violent forced displacement exploded again on an even larger scale in 2017. Armed men brutally attacked thousands of families in their homes. An unprecedented 740,000 people fled en masse across the border into Bangladesh, where they joined 200,000 who had earlier been displaced. Overnight, a small fishing port called Cox Bazaar became the world’s largest refugee camp. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labelled the attacks as ‘textbook ethnic cleansing’. The world gasped in horror.
Two years later, families confined to camps in Bangladesh continue to live in limbo. Despite a formal agreement signed between the two governments to repatriate the refugees, alarming developments on the ground have made this impossible. Continuing down this path will serve only to spawn another hopeless and unending refugee crisis.