Rohingya: Ending Cycle of Displacement

In responding to much awaited 'Rakhine Investigation Commission Report', there appears to be two distinct groups amongst commentators. Some commentators -- the 'old habits die hard' exiles -- usually look for 'certain' dis-appointments in that report; and they surely won't be disappointed! Others who viewed the report in a moderate mind-set -- OHCHR for example -- see some positive developments.

To me, having viewed the summary of recommendations from that report, I could see some lights at the end of tunnel. Decades-long plights of Rohingya under the State neglect and continuous cycle of displacement could have come to an end, should some of these recommendations are being implemented properly.


Generally speaking, the Burmese in proper Burma by and large view the Rohingya as an 'immigrant community' from Bangladesh. In truth, most people in Burma would never have aware of the existence of Rohingyas. Burmese people of my generation who grown up under General Ne Win's era will vaugely heard about the fierce 'Mujahid fighters in Rakhine State'; and couldn't even possibly make a connection with these 'immigrants from Bangladesh'. Myself a Burman, born in Irrawaddy Delta in the 60s, only begun to learn about Rohingya and their predicaments in 1991; and I am still learning about their history.

In sum, there is a great deal of information gap exists for the Burmese people when it comes to the issues of Rohingya. Put simply, to a normal Burmese the issues and existence of Rohingya will come as a 'shock'. The outside observers as well as those in pro-Rohingya advocacy must keep in mind of that fact.


International Human Rights Groups and exile groups often blame, quite rightly so, Burman xenophobia and State sponsored racism as the root cause of statelessness of Rohingyas. However, the current debates about Rohingya are narrowly framed in their contexts, i.e. human rights (or) historical. The present discussion on Rohingya on Internet, for example, usually focuses on its early historical existence, especially its naming and religious origins. Such context should be widened to include more contemporary developments of Rohingya community.

Current debates and discussions on Rohingya community are lacking information about cross-border movements in General Ne Win's era. Things to consider is, for example, Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan in 1971 and came into a statehood. The Balgladeshi Liberation War (1971) and Great Famine of 1974 would have greatly influenced cross-border people movements into Rakhine State. In 1978 Gen. Ne Win regime launched a crack-down on the Rohingya border community, displacing 200,000. These displaced people were taken back by Burmese side after Bangladeshi Government put to death of these refugees by starvation.

Around that of 1978 repatriation, the LT Gen. Zia Rahman was president of Bangladesh. It is unclear how the negotiation (arm-twisting) or what compromise (real-politik) might have led to General Ne Win taking back those who were displaced in Bangladesh. However, it is not likely that General Ne Win had taking these displaced people back merely out of compassion. The truth we would never know, of course. But one thing certain; General Ne Win regime did not have any policy for integrating these people other than keeping them in legal-limbo. I think we do need to look further into this 'statelessness' and 'illegal status' of Rohingyas in a more informed and rational way.


Soon after releasing the Commission Report, the Burmese immigration reportedly begin registering Rohingya in Rakhine State. I am quite concerns about the Rohingya who are residing on the other side of Naf river. According to reports, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who are living near the two UN recognised camps in a refugee-like situation. These people appears to be from the Burmese Immigration's "cleared" list in 1994 UN Supervised repatriation. After 1994 repatriation, they then sneaked back into Bangladesh side of the border since life in Rakhine State found impossible. How would these people can get registered if they so wish? May be international organization might have the answer.


On the possibility of re-integrating the Rohingya as full citizens of Burma, there is still long ways ahead. The Burmese parliamentarians, in both Government and Opposition sides, now begin to ponder about situation of Rohingyas. As being noted earlier, the Rakhine Investigation Commission Report may well have present to us as a starting point for ending decades of displacement by Rohingyas.