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Protecting Minorities: The Rohingya Case
By Tania Corazza — International Cooperation Policies for Development, Faculty of Political Science Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123 Milano, Italy.
The term Rohingya generically defines the Sunni Muslims who inhabited the former Arakan State, as historians used to call the western region of Myanmar, now identified with the Rakhine State. The historical clarification is more important than ever in this case, as the humanitarian disaster currently affecting Rohingya has its roots in the past, a past characterized by discrimination and marginalization towards this community. As a matter of fact, Rohingya are not mentioned in the national Citizenship Law of 1982, whose text presents a list of recognized minorities in Myanmar divided into eight groups. De facto, since they’re not acknowledged by the State, they are a stateless group, continuously threatened by the Buddhist community identified with the bamar¸ the prevailing ethnic group in the country. They’ve been affected by decades of racist propaganda, injustices and labelled as a threat for the country and its religion. The religious and ethnic oppression has reached unimaginable levels in the last five years, with incidents that caused deaths, destruction, and an appalling number of refugees and displaced persons inside the country itself, with the majority of Rohingya being illegally incarcerated and tortured in prison camps.
Discrimination and violence against Rohingya and other minorities of Muslim faith intensified during the control of the Authorities from the Ministry of Immigration, when officials distributed ID cards of different colours depending on the ownership of full, associate or naturalized citizenship. Unrecognised minorities obtained a white card which indicated that the person didn’t have any citizenship, thus no rights. This aberrant classification has been condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, both expressing their concern and recommendations to the Burmese Government to abolish the classification based on ethnic, racist, religious criteria which have allowed the perpetration of cruel treatments and the spread of prejudice towards Muslim communities as the Rohingya on Rakhine territory.
The Burmese Government tried to find a solution when in 2014 and 2016 Officials of the Ministry of Immigration went to Rakhine State’s region and offered the Rohingya to register as Bangladeshi, in order to start over the process of identification as foreigners, as the law on Citizenship allows them to. The proposition was entirely made on the assumption that Rohingya are not part of the nation but arrived illegally from Bangladesh in a remote past, when in fact numerous testimonies attest their presence in the region in ancient times, and then during the pre-colonial era, gathered in communities as farmers of Muslim faith in the old Arakan State.
The explosion of violence also caused an unprecedented flow of migrants directed towards Myanmar’s neighbouring countries: Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. Here, Rohingya have been accepted, but they’re blocked inside refugee camps and detention facilities where other human rights violations have been reported.