Indonesian authorities, facing international pressure, said they will allow the United Nations refugee agency access to about 400 Burmese Muslims who landed on the country’s shores over the past month to help verify their claims of persecution. The decision announced Feb. 6 comes days after a boat carrying nearly 200 men belonging to Burma’s Rohingya minority was discovered off Sumatra. Another boat, also with about 200 Rohingya aboard, was discovered in early January.
After the first boat was discovered, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the government considered the men economic migrants, not political refugees who could be in danger if sent back to Burma, and rejected requests from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for access. When the second boat landed, passengers told tales of abuse, leading the Indonesian government to re-evaluate its stance. An Indonesian naval commander who interviewed the refugees confirmed that they showed clear signs of physical abuse.
The two boats are believed to have been among nine carrying about 1,200 Rohingya who fled Burma for Thailand, only to be rounded up by the Thai military and dragged back out to sea. About 850 Rohingya in six boats have so far been found in the Andaman Sea. Besides the two boats that came to Indonesia, three arrived in India and one in Thailand. The three other boats are unaccounted for.
The UN estimates there are about 723,000 Rohingya in Burma, where they face severe discrimination. (IHT, Feb. 6)
While Indonesia denies the Rohingyas are refugees, the Burmese regime denies that they even exist as a distinct ethnicity. The official line in Burma is that the Rohingyas are actually Bangladeshis, and the regime has for years been forcing them across the border into Bangladesh—where, far from being welcomed and accepted, they wait endlessly in squalid refugee camps, granted neither residency nor much in the way of humanitarian aid. In response to Burmese government claims that his people do not exist, M. Hussain Azmi, a Rohingya exile in Germany, wrote the Jakarta Post Feb. 8:
Rohingyas are not Bangladeshis
The Myanmarese military regime is deceiving the world by giving false statements on their website that we are Bangladeshis. We Rohingyas have never spoken the Bangladeshi language. We have our own culture.
Linguistic similarities are not…reasons to relate us to Bangladesh or Bangladeshi people. People in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, speak similar languages. Are those nationalities the same?
The Persian language is used in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The German language is spoken in Germany, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Austria. Do they have the same nationality?
The Myanmarese regime, however, declares that there are no Rohingya people in Myanmar.
They are systematically using their forces to expel us from the country. There give us no rights and have no respect for us. They treat us inhumanly.
Most of the Rohingyas have lost their identity cards and so are categorized as noncitizens of Myanmar. Their freedom of movement rights are restricted in the country too. They have no education system and most of the people are uneducated, especially those in the Arakan state.
If they think we are Bangladesh[is], I will argue that you can tell who the Bengalis are and who the Rohingya are through their dialects. Some people find it difficult to tell the difference between a donkey and a horse. They think they are the same.
We Rohingyas have our own dialect that can be recognized so we can immediately be differentiated from the Bangladeshi people, who do not use our dialect anymore.
For your information, based on facts and evidence, the Rohingyas have been participating in national and local elections and have been elected as Members of Parliament from 1936, the era of colonial rule, up to the 1990 election, the era of the current military junta [when the regime refused to recognize parliamentary elections, and had opposition politicians arrested].
There was a Rohingya Minister too in the Cabinet of U Nu, the first prime minister of Myanmar.
Since May 15, 1961 a program has been broadcast in the Rohingya language by the Myanmarese Broadcasting Service as part of and “indigenous groups” program. A survey was conducted in 1958 on the daily life of the Rohingya, recorded and published by the Ministry of Defense.
Since the seventh century, we Rohingyas, Rakhines and all other ethnic groups from Arakan have been living side by side in peace and harmony. So please help us.
See our last post on Burma.
Please leave a little something in the World War 4 Report tip jar: