Silver lining appears on clouds over Myanmar
By Jim Pollard, The Nation/Asia News NetworkBANGKOK -- A storm of criticism has flared again over Myanmar's treatment of ethnic Rohingya — and its request to the United Nations refugee agency last week to resettle more than half a million of them to countries overseas.
July 17, 2012, 11:41 am TWN
But Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — who told Myanmar's President Thein Sein it was not possible to deport the Rohingya — tried to play down the affair in an exclusive interview in Bangkok on Friday.
Guterres agreed that the Rohingya — Muslims of Bangladeshi ethnic origin at the center of repeated crises in western Rakhine state — have endured “dramatic discrimination” and that their plight “deserves a message of humanity from the international community.”
But he had only words of encouragement for Thein Sein's reformist regime.
“We have witnessed recently an eruption of some dramatic forms of violence — inter-community violence (in Rakhine state) — and this has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people; and to a dramatic humanitarian situation for many of them.
“There is still high tension on the ground. And I believe it's important to help calm things down — to urgently deliver humanitarian aid without discrimination to the two communities, and at the same time to seriously promote a true reconciliation process.
“I had the opportunity in my visit to also suggest that, independently of the improvements that the Nationality Law might deserve, it would be important to effectively grant Myanmar nationality to all those members of the Muslim community that have the right to it according to the law. And to find for the other members of the community a legal status allowing them to enjoy fully the rights that are necessary to lead a normal life.”
The Rohingya have been denied citizenship amid claims they are “Bengalis” from Bangladesh. The request was rejected, with the UNHCR chief and staff at pains to explain it was impossible to do this, because the Rohingya were not refugees — they had not fled conflict or persecution across borders.
Treatment of the Rohingya has been condemned by some as ethnic cleansing and a state-sanctioned pogrom. Denied citizenship by Ne Win's government in 1982, tens of thousands have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and taken to boats in recent years in search of a new life in Malaysia and other lands because of despair at their lack of rights — an inability to travel for work, or simply to marry — and a suffocating cycle of extortion and abuse by officials in Rakhine state.