Thursday June 20, 2019
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Crisis of Rohingya: A future lost in darkness of time

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Photo credit: karennews.org
Photo credit: karennews.org
Photo credit: karennews.org

By Shilpika Srivastava

The scars on their bodies earned in fights over little food and water are nothing when compared to the marks that are invisible – deeply etched on their souls.

Think about the courage it takes to leave your home, mount a dilapidated boat, and venture out into the perils and qualms of the stormy seas! Unfortunately, this is the stark reality of thousands of people from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority.

In the past few weeks, the Rohingyas, also called ‘floating coffins,’ have not seen even a single humanitarian example of compassion and humility. Rather, they have been coldly pushed back by governments who are not keen on sheltering any more asylum seekers.

Who are the Rohingyas?

The Rohingya people are an Indo-Aryan ethnic Muslim group that reside in northern Rakhine (Arakan), Myanmar.

The ethnicity of the Rohingya people is disputed, however, as per these people and a few scholars, they are indigenous to the land of Rakhine. A group of other historians suggest that they migrated to Burma from Bengal primarily during the period of British rule.

The least wanted and the most persecuted minority

A report published in BBC a few years back unveiled the fact that the Rohingya people are “among the world’s least wanted.”

As per the report, they are not allowed to travel or even marry without seeking permission. “They are not welcome in Bangladesh either, where at least 200,000 now live as illegal immigrants, without rights to employment, health care or education,” states the report.

A recent report by the United Nations has also tagged this ethnic minority as one of the world’s “most persecuted minorities.”

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s report earlier this month also exposed the fact that rising Buddhist jingoism and anti-Islamic sentiment in Myanmar made this Muslim minority a “population at grave risk for additional mass atrocities and even genocide.”

Also, the last three years have witnessed Rohingya people being targeted by violent mobs of Buddhist extremists, leaving hundreds dead and triggering a departure of more than 120,000 people, as per the UNHCR.

The situation is so bad in Burma that even the name Rohingya is considered a taboo in the country. Albeit the Rohingyas have lived in this Buddhist majority country for generations, they are still referred to as ‘Bengalis’ and are purported to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

What prompts the Rohingya people to the sea?

The state of Northern Rakhine is one of the poorest and most isolated in Myanmar. However, the hardships inflicted on the Rohingya by their own country make their condition way too deplorable.

In 2009, Chris Kaye, Director, UN World Food Programme, who visited Myanmar the same year said to a news channel, “Economic hardship and chronic poverty prevents many thousands of people in north Rakhine state from gaining food security.” He further added, “Many do not have land rights or access to farmland to grow food, and the restrictions and limitations on the movement of people, goods and commodities places additional stress on people’s livelihood opportunities.”

The condition of this Muslim minority is so pitiable that out of the 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the country, the Rohingyas are the only ones who are denied citizenship under Burma’s 1982 citizenship law. The inhumane acts of humiliation touch heights when they are even not allowed to get married without an official permission.

How much the Rohingyas are hated by Burma can be sensed from a statement made by the country’s Consul General Ye Myint Aung, who described the Rohingya people as “ugly as ogres” in 2009.

This litany of abuse and continuous harassment forced the Rohingya people to flee over to other countries in search of a better life conditions. Initially, they took shelter in Bangladesh where there’s only a flimsy difference from that of Burma.

When Bangladesh did not come to their rescue, then numerous Rohingya people started making dangerous trips to Malaysia in crooked boats in hope of better job conditions. It is just this slight ray of hope that is driving the Rohingyas to the seas.

The present situation

Over the past few weeks more than 3,000 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh have arrived on Southeast Asia’s beaches, stranded after smugglers abandoned their rickety boats on the way to Malaysia.

According to the United Nations, about 3,500 Rohingya people are estimated to be adrift in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal too. They are either stranded at sea or deterred by Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai authorities from reaching the land.

Recently, the discovery of a mass grave in Malaysia and Thailand is yet another evidence of the grave existential impasse that migrants confront. The bodies found in the catacombs, situated in the state of Perlis, Malaysia are believed to be that of the Rohingya refugees, who flee Myanmar.

Toothless nature of ASEAN

ASEAN’s policy of non-interference over internal issues such as human rights abuse has certainly backfired the association during the ongoing humanitarian crisis suffered by Myanmar’s Muslim minority population.

However, after a long hour of blackout, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said to local daily Utusan Malaysia’s a few days back that Malaysia and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations members have urged Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya issue as the association’s non-interference policy does not mean silence.

Had the issue not caught international publicity, it can’t be denied that these refugees may have been conveniently ignored by ASEAN.

There’s hardly any solution!

As reported by CNN, Yasmine, a 13-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that a dozen men came to her home in Rakhine State. “They dragged me to the boat, they had sticks and threatened to beat me,” she said. “I screamed, I cried loudly. My parents were weeping, but they couldn’t do anything. I went onto the boat with three men. When I got to the big boat… I cannot explain my feeling, I was so scared.”

However, amidst the disaster-struck and downtrodden Rohingyas, a first ray of hope came from Philippines. A week back, the country offered to accept these refugees, though there is a bleak possibility that these poorly maintained and overcrowded migrants could ever clear the passage from the Andaman Sea to the Philippines.

Recently, Singapore announced an initial aid of US$200,000 through ASEAN to back the efforts of countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia that have been helping Rohingya refugees.

Although, Myanmar has slightly softened its stand on the issue and declared that  it will offer aid to migrants stuck at sea. Though it seems highly unlikely that it will take back Rohingyas that have fled.

Given the history of this Muslim minority on the land of Buddhist majority country, the future of those, who are still stuck in Rakhine still seems dark.

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World Population Expected to Reach 9.7 Billion in 2050, United Nations Reports

The new population projections indicate that nine countries will be responsible for more than half the projected population growth

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FILE - Faces in the crowd at the peace assembly in Kathmandu, May 7, 2010. VOA

The world’s population is getting older and growing at a slower pace but is still expected to increase from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050, the United Nations said Monday.

The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division said in a new report that world population could reach its peak of nearly 11 billion around the end of the century.

But Population Division Director John Wilmoth cautioned that because 2100 is many decades away this outcome “is not certain, and in the end the peak could come earlier or later, at a lower or higher level of total population.”

The new projections indicate that nine countries will be responsible for more than half the projected growth between now and 2050. In descending order of the expected increase, they are: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the United States.

UN, World, Population
The world’s population is getting older and growing at a slower pace but is still expected to increase from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050. VOA

In sub-Saharan Africa, it is projected to nearly double by 2050, the report said.

Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Lu Zhenmin said in a statement: “Many of the fastest growing populations are in the poorest countries, where population growth brings additional challenges in the effort to eradicate poverty,” promote gender equality and improve health care and education.

The report confirmed that the world’s population is growing older due to increasing life expectancy and falling fertility levels.

The global fertility rate fell from 3.2 births per woman in 1990 to 2.5 births in 2019 and is projected to decline further to 2.2 births by 2050.

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A fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman is need to ensure population replacement and avoid declines, according to the report.

In 2019, the fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa was the highest at 4.6 births per woman, with Pacific islands, northern Africa, and western, central and southern Asia above the replacement level, the report said.

But since 2010, it said 27 countries or areas have lost one percent or more of their population.

“Between 2019 and 2050 populations are projected to decrease by one percent or more in 55 countries or areas, of which 26 may see a reduction of at least 10 percent,” the U.N. said. “In China, for example, the population is projected to decrease by 31.4 million, or around 2.2 percent, between 2019 and 2050.”

UN, World, Population
World population could reach its peak of nearly 11 billion around the end of the century. Pixabay

Wilmoth, the head of the Population Division, told a news conference launching the report that the population growth rate is slowing down as the fertility level gradually decreases. That decrease usually follows a reduction in the mortality level that initially instigated growth, he said.

Wilmoth stressed that multiple factors lead to lower fertility including increasing education and employment, especially for women, and more jobs in urban than rural areas, which motivate people away from costly large families to  smaller families.

But to achieve this, he said, people also need access to modern methods of contraception.

According to the “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights” report, migration is also a major component of population growth or loss in some countries.

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Between 2010 and 2020, it said 14 countries or areas will see a net inflow of more than one million migrants while 10 countries will experience a similar loss.

For example, some of the largest outflows of people — including from Bangladesh, Mepal and the Philippines — are driven by the demand for migrant workers, the report said. But some migrants are driven from their home countries by violence, insecurity and conflict, including from Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela.

The U.N. said countries experiencing a net inflow of migrants over the decade include Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine. (VOA)