The world has forgotten the Rohingya since last autumn. This neglect exposed the Rohingya to more to being exploitation and abuse by human and drug traffickers — and to recruitment by extremists.
All too often, it takes a security concern to push us to act for a humanitarian cause. It is easier to intervene out of shared humanity when it is our own safety — and not just those of the anonymous huddled masses — on the line.
The one million refugees, systematically and ruthlessly driven from their land by their own government, dominated the news cycle for a week or two last year. But then mostly forgotten until recent reports of tragic Rohingya child trafficking, booming illegal drug trade and attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Just as some started to tire of the same pictures of escaping refugees, the same stories of torture and rape, the same analyses of ethnic cleansing, we were given the convenient way out that perhaps many in the world wanted: A repatriation agreement was hastily struck up between the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments. The headlines made it sound like the million stateless people could go home. Not everyone asked whether they felt safe returning – and whether they even had homes to go back to.
The reality is that despite the repatriation agreement almost no Rohingya have returned to Myanmar, and those who have are still not being recognized as Myanmar citizens. The Myanmar Apartheid State is alive and well.
The missing element is accountability; no post-conflict agreement or peacebuilding solution has ever worked without it. It is impossible to move forward without the Myanmar regime first acknowledging what happened, beginning to learn why, and committing to not letting it happen again.
A rigorous security policy around the small extremist fringe of Rohingya militancy may form part of the solution — but a far larger element must surely be implementing severe penalties for war crimes, and reigning in Myanmar’s far-right incitement networks, starting with Arshin Wirathu who is still free to preach, recruit and agitate.
Meanwhile the dispossessed and disenfranchised Rohingya have managed to find sanctuary in one of the poorest nations in the world, Bangladesh, whose resources are now stretched to the limit. Fifty-eight percent of those refugees are children, many of them orphans who witnessed the execution of their parents and other family members. These children are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has been working with United Nations and the international community to support the Bangladesh authorities and provide for the Rohingya refugee camps.
Last week Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding with UN agencies for assistance in implementing the repatriation agreement signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh in November 2017.
At first the MOU appears to be a long overdue step in the right direction to create the conditions “conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable refugee returns from Bangladesh, and their reintegration in the country.” However, despite this encouraging advance, it is crucial to note that the very people it is meant to help, the Rohingya, were given no voice in the matter and the process that led to this MOU has not been transparent.
The most important aspect to the reintegration of the Rohingya is the issue of “citizenship” and this is not addressed by the MOU and left wide open to interpretation. The only satisfactory kind of citizenship for the Rohingya is full and unconditional. In its absence, the talk about “reintegration in the country” must rightfully be looked upon with suspicion.
Nevertheless, the OIC will continue to work with anyone who wants progress, from Rohingya civil society such as the Arakan Rohingya Union, to other intergovernmental organizations like the UN and the EU.
When the UN Secretary General António Guterres was asked if the regime’s crimes against the Rohingya amounted to ethnic cleansing, he pointedly answered the question with his own: “can you find a better word to describe it?”
Our continued disowning of Rohingya rights — and leaving them with no passionate advocate except for the extremists — amounts to denial, dismissal and cowardice. Can you find better words to describe it?
Maha Akeel is the most senior female official at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s second-largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations. She is the first Saudi woman appointed to a top OIC post and a frequent contributor at major media around the world.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.