August 25th will mark one year since the vitriolic military onslaught by the Burma military and forces on Rohingya villagers in Northern Arakan State (Rakhine) which led to unspeakable atrocities. The numbers involved in the violence are simply unbelievable. Conservative estimates of the 25,000 Rohingya killed, more than 20,000 Rohingya women raped, over 300 villages entirely burnt down and more than 800,000 Rohingya forced to flee the violence are simply unfathomable. The destruction and the displacement are however, only the tip of an iceberg, with countless other crimes committed against the Rohingya.

One year on, and with now more than 1 million displaced Rohingya living in dense inhumane refugee camps in Bangladesh, hope is not a word often used by the Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya crisis has been well documented by the media. Images circulated online of people escaping with the little possessions they could carry. Heartbreaking videos of children separated from their parents, of people carrying their elderly family members in baskets, of people struggling to escape through the sludge and mud of the monsoon season will be hard to erase from our minds. Initially there was a huge outpouring of emotion globally with millions donated by the general public. But as time has ebbed on, huge gaps in the international response have emerged.

Humanitarian Response

Restless Beings have been supporting and advocating for the Rohingya for over a decade and we have followed one crisis after another for this community. From our very first research field trips to Maungdaw in 2008, our on-going support of Rohingya refugees from 2009 to present in Bangladesh, to the ‘boat crisis’ of 2015 which saw 10,000 Rohingya arrive to the shores of Aceh in Indonesia, to supporting Rohingya communities in Malaysia, we are well versed as to the needs and sensibilities of this community. Since August last year, our humanitarian response through our supporters has been ever present. Around August 19th 2017, we received news that some people were trying to escape to Bangladesh. From the 20th we started to establish immediate blankets and tents for the arrivals. By the 25th August, 300 tents were already set up on the border in Ghundum. And then came the massive influx. In the matter of days more than 200,000 had crossed over the border and the numbers just kept on swelling in the weeks and months that followed. By November 2017, we had already distributed more than 150 tonnes of food aid. By June 2018, 800,000 Rohingya had crossed the border. Millions of pounds of aid had been donated by various charities.

And yet there is a massive funding gap. Of the US$950 million that was sought by the UN for the humanitarian response, as of July 2018, only 27% has been received. Donor appetite it seems is waning. Much of the money donated has been spent by the larger agencies in building infrastructures and offices for the many international aid workers now in Cox’s Bazar. Nation states have been slow and limited in terms of their humanitarian donations whilst general public donors continue to support.

Political Response

The governments of Bangladesh and Burma were quick to draft together a deal which would ensure ‘repatriation’ of the Rohingya and by November 2017, the deal was signed and ready to be implemented. The vital detail of the Rohingya being repatriated with citizens rights, back to their homeland, back to their villages was conveniently left out. Instead, Burma duly built hundreds of large refugee ‘internment’ camps, ready for the return of the Rohingya into prison like conditions. Since November 2017, numerous meetings have been held between both countries, UN bodies have even been drafted in to oversee the repatriation, and yet the crucial detail of citizenship and right to return to their homeland, their village, their homes has been left out. Bangladesh is even trying to gain traction on the idea of moving 100,000+ Rohingya to an uninhabited island hundreds of miles from the current camps.

In fact, through sustained political pressure from Burma, Bangladesh does not officially use the word ‘Rohingya’ – instead a new term was coined ‘Forcibly Displaced Nationals of Myanmar’ and more recently ‘Displaced Persons from Rakhine State’. Bangladesh’s counter-request to Burma to stop terming the Rohingya as ‘illegal Bengalis’ has however fallen on deaf ears. Min Aung Hlaing recently blamed the Rohingya for the military violence saying it was “fuelled because the Bengalis demanded citizenship”. This denial of identity by Burma is at the very heart of this genocide. The dehuminiastion, the vitriolic hate perpetuated by Nobel Peace Prize winning Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and the sheer ferocious violence is what embodies the genocide.

There can be no doubt that the current set up of the ‘repatriation’ deal which as yet has not actually seen any Rohingya being repatriated, is totally flawed. Unfortunately, there is precedent in this type of deal. The same setup existed during 1991/2 when eventually Rohingya were repatriated with force. Then, as now, UNHCR and other UN bodies watched on.

International Response

Secretaries of state for foreign affairs, and their ministers were quick to denounce the Burmese military actions in North America and Europe whilst staunch supporters of the regime, India and China were more coy about using strong words. And whilst the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ was used by US Government and Britain, France’s Marcon went so far as to use the term ‘genocide’. Such strong terms normally lead on to some sort of action to stop the violence the Rohingya had faced. And yet, no real sanctions of fortitude, no disassociation of diplomatic ties, no expelling of ambassadors and in general a very weak international response has simply emboldened Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing.

The words ‘safe and dignified’ were used again and again by foreign leaders when addressing the ‘repatriation’ deal and although words such as ‘justice’ and ‘accountability’ are bandied around across lobbying and advocacy corridors today. To date, there has been no accountability, there is no ICC state referred trial. Min Aung Hlaing and Aung San Suu Kyi – the two responsible leaders of Burma are not under duress of investigation, if anything nation states are still hopeful that diplomacy will work with Suu Kyi and Hlaing. To date there has been no justice, not a single Rohingya has been given their rightful citizenship rights, or their destroyed homeland back, or even a dime in compensation. The words ‘never again’ always pop up when it comes to memorial days, or to commemoration events, or to evening vigils or to remembrance days. The only words however that resonate despite being unspoken to the Rohingya are the words ‘ignored’ and ‘forgotten’.

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