Why Buddhists in Myanmar are protesting against the return of Rohingyas
Sittwe (Myanmar), Oct 23: On a day when India also stated that the return of the displaced persons (Rohingya refugees) to Rakhine State in Myanmar will restore normalcy, a protest in Myanmar broke out against the repatriation of Rohingyas to their 'homeland' on Sunday.
The Myanmar government always maintained that the Rohingyas are not the citizens of the country, but are Bengali-speaking Muslim refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh.
However, Bangladesh, which till now has given shelter to at least 600,000 Rohingyas in its refugees camps in Cox's Bazar since the exodus of the minority Muslim community from violence-hit Rakhine State began on August 25, maintains that ultimately Myanmar has to take back the Rohingyas as they belong to the country.
While protesting, hundreds of hardline Buddhists urged the Myanmar government not to repatriate the minority Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh.
The protest took place in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, where many Rohingyas lived before an outbreak of inter-communal violence in 2012 forced them to flee their homes.
Aung Htay, a protest organiser, said any citizens would be welcomed in the state. "But if these people don't have the right to be citizens ... the government's plan for a conflict-free zone will never be implemented," he added.
Myanmar doesn't recognise Rohingyas as an ethnic group, instead insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country. The Rohingyas are excluded from the official 135 ethnic groups in the country and denied citizenship.
The Rohingyas from the northern Rakhine have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages.
The Myanmar government said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents, but the United Nations (UN) and others stated that the response was disproportionate.
Earlier this month, Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi's government said that it was willing to take back Rohingya refugees who fled to southeastern Bangladesh. The government has agreed to form a joint working group to start the repatriation process.
The protesters, including some Buddhist monks, demanded that the government should not take back the refugees.
"The organisers of the protest applied to get permission for a thousand people to participate in it, but only a few hundred showed up," said Soe Tint Swe, a local official.
During her two-day long visit to Bangladesh on Sunday, India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj expressed deep concern at the spate of violence in Buddhist-majority Rakhine State.
"It is clear that normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons to Rakhine state.
"The only long-term solution to the situation in Rakhine State is rapid socio-economic and infrastructure development that would have a positive impact on all the communities living in the State," she said.
Bangladesh has sought India's "sustained pressure" on Myanmar for the resolution of Rohingya refugee crisis. "India is deeply concerned at the spate of violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State," Swaraj said.