The sectarian violence in Burma’s Rakhine State has brought much-deserved international attention to the long-neglected situation of Burma’s Rohingya community, Refugees International said in a report released on Tuesday.
The fact that it is taking place during a period of dramatic change in the country’s governmental structure offers a chance to finally put an end to discrimination against the Rohingya and restore their citizenship, it said.
After the June violence, only displaced people were entitled to receive the limited humanitarian assistance offered by the international community, said the report, which called for the government to immediately lift any restrictions on the provision of aid to such people.
In northern Rakhine State, where 800,000 Rohingya have been subjected to extreme restrictions on their human rights for decades (such as freedom of movement, marriage, and worship), the Border Affairs Ministry shut down medical assistance and food programs in June and refused to issue travel authorizations to humanitarian agencies, said the report.
Already unable to work or travel freely, the Rohingya had become dependent on these agencies for basic necessities, it said. The four months without assistance coincided with the seasonal gap between harvests, and this has had serious effects on the health, nutrition, and food security of these communities, it said.
The report said displaced Rakhine and Rohingya both expressed great fears of the other community. While a majority of the Rakhine said they would never be able to live with the Rohingya again, most Rohingya said they wished to return to their home quarters and believed that, if security was re-established, the communities could soon live together again, said the report.
Rohingya whom RI spoke with maintained that if they were attacked after leaving their own area, the security forces would not assist them, the report said.
Some Kaman Muslims, who are Burmese citizens living in Aung Mingalar, told RI that they are also no longer able to move freely.
The report said that as yet, the government has not put forth plans to rebuild Rohingya houses burned down during the violence or compensate them for their land if they are not permitted to return. Most Rohingya businesses in the town have been closed down, Rohingya students have had to leave schools and universities they used to attend, and Rohingya cannot easily access healthcare in the state’s main hospital.
Conversely, the Rakhine community does not have limitations on its freedom of movement, their businesses are open, students have returned to school, and the hospital remains accessible to them, said the report.
It is also vital that the central government welcome the presence of humanitarian actors, publicly condemn violence and impunity in Rakhine State, protect equal access to justice, and demand that state and local authorities be held accountable if they fail in their responsibilities to protect all the residents of the state, said the report.
The rule of law in Rakhine State must be restored, the segregation of communities in Sittwe must come to an end, and the Rohingya should be recognized as citizens of Burma, said Refugees International.
For the long-term, Burma’s government must commit to the robust economic, social, and political development of Rakhine State. But that will not be enough, it said.
While a functioning economy, political representation, and land ownership will go a long way toward reconciliation, hostilities will not end until Burma’s government commits to promoting and protecting the human rights of both communities, said the humanitarian group.
For a full copy of the report, go to http://www.refintl.org/policy/field-report/rohingya-burma-spotlight-current-crisis-offers-opportunity-progress