Rohingya Refugees

WNYC's The Takeaway | Bangladesh Plans to Relocate 100,000 Rohingya to Cyclone-Prone Island

Since 2016, over 1 million Rohingya Muslims have fled ethnic cleansing by Myanmar's military and taken refuge in Bangladesh, which has one of the highest population densities in the world.

Following the Foreign Minister’s announcement that it could no longer accept Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh has completed some construction as part of a plan to relocate 100,000 refugees to a remote, monsoon-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.

The island's name, Bhasan Char, means "floating island". Rohingya activists have criticized the decision, saying that they didn't get a chance to weigh in.

Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International, gives an update on the situation in Myanmar, and then discusses Bangladesh’s refugee relocation plan.

KQED Radio: Refugees International President Eric Schwartz

Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International, joins us in studio to discuss the globe’s refugee hot spots. Schwartz recently travelled to Bangladesh to assess the plight of Rohingya refugees who have been targeted by Myanmar’s military.

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Arab News: Whitewashing the genocide in Myanmar

Although the genocide of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar has gathered greater media attention in recent months, there is no indication that the international community is prepared to act in any meaningful way, thus leaving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees stranded in border camps between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

While top United Nations officials are now using the term “genocide” to describe the massive abuses experienced by the Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar army, security forces and Buddhist militias, no plan of action has been put in place.
In less than six months, beginning August 2017, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya have fled or were pushed across the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Most of the “clearance operations” — a term used by the Myanmar military to describe the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya — took place in Rakhine state.

In a recent report, Medecins Sans Frontieres relayed the harrowing death toll of Rohingya during the first month of the genocidal campaign. At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed between August 25 and September 24 last year, according to MSF. This includes 730 children under the age of five.

Eric Schwartz, of Refugee International, described these events in an interview with American National Public Radio (NPR) as “one of the greatest crimes in recent memory — massive abuses, forced relocations of hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks.”

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ASEANTODAY: The myth of the stateless Rohingya

Aung San Suu Kyi continues to bury her head in the sand on the Rohingya issue. She avoideddiscussing sexual violence against women in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. She met with senior UN official, Pramila Patten during Patten’s four-day visit in December. Patten recounted how she dodged meaningful discussion about widespread rape in Rakhine State.

Human Rights Watch released a report on the situation in November. They interviewed 29 rape survivors. Three were under the age of 18.

Aung San Suu Kyi continues to hold the military line. The official military line is that the Rohingya are illegally squatting in Myanmar. The military maintains they are stateless ethnic Bengalis. It maintains they are illegal migrants. Should they go back to Bangladesh?

The Rohingya are a persecuted race

The Burmese military has denied Rohingya citizenship rights. After the military came to power in 1962, the Rohingya had foreign identity cards. They could not hold certain jobs. The military banned the Rohingya from practicing law or medicine. They could not run for office.

Then in 1982, they received the stateless label. The military refused to recognise them as an official ethnic group. They could no longer vote. They had restricted access to health services. The violent crackdowns began in the 1970s.

The military constructed the idea that they are stateless

The idea of the Rohingya as a stateless people is a Burmese military construct. Muslims have inhabited the Rakhine region of Myanmar since the 12th century. During British colonial rule, Myanmar was a province of India. There was migration from Bangladesh and India to Rakhine State. But it was legal. It was internal migration.

In 1948, Myanmar secured its independence. The Burmese government passed the first Union Citizenship act. Rohingya who had been in Myanmar for at least two generations could apply for identity cards. They also served in parliament.

The military came to power in a coup in 1962. The new government created the myth of the Rohingya as a stateless population. It was a tool to justify the restriction of Rohingya rights. President of Refugees International, Eric Schwartz summed it up. He said, “the notion that they [the Rohingya] are stateless is nonsense. It is nonsense. It is a myth perpetrated by the authorities in Myanmar.”

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NPR: The Future Of Myanmar's Rohingya Refugees

Myanmar says it is ready to start receiving Rohingya refugees this week, but will they be safe? Eric Schwartz of Refugees International discusses their return with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro.


There are increasing concerns over a plan to send a group of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar beginning this week. A deal was reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh, where more than 600,000 refugees fled. Yet United Nations and humanitarian groups say the move is premature and that the conditions that led to ethnic cleansing still exist. Joining me in the studio is Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and a former assistant secretary of state. Welcome to the program, sir.

ERIC SCHWARTZ: Pleasure to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the Rohingya have faced rape, forcible displacement, other atrocities in Myanmar, which is what forced them to flee to Bangladesh in the first place. In the past few days, Rohingya Muslims have continued, though, to pour across the border into Bangladesh. Why are the two countries talking about returning refugees to Myanmar if people are still fleeing violence?

SCHWARTZ: Why they're talking about it is because they feel they have to talk about it. The government of Bangladesh wants the bulk of these people to return. They also would be feeling some domestic pressures in this area, as well. And the government of Burma, I think, is feeling some of the pressure from the international community and feels some need to be responsive. But the real story here is this is horrifying, this discussion, to be taking place right now, given the complete absence of measures in place to ensure safety and security upon return.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As I understand it, the Rohingya, according to this agreement, will be moved from the camps in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar where there could be security concerns.

SCHWARTZ: Oh yeah, there are no safeguards in place. There - been no serious discussion of safeguards for return. You have to realize that we're talking about one of the greatest crimes in recent memory - massive abuses, forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's problems, obviously, with monitoring the situation. The government won't let - of Myanmar - won't let international monitors in. And, in fact, the top U.N. official responsible for human rights was barred from the country. Is that right?

SCHWARTZ: Yanghee Lee, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, has been denied entry. A U.N. fact-finding mission has been denied entry. If there was going to be a return - and this is premature - but if there was going to be a return, there would have to be some sort of international monitoring in place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Myanmar sees most of the Rohingya as illegal migrants who originally came from Bangladesh generations ago. Bangladesh does not want them either. We're seeing a new generation growing up in refugee camps. In many ways, they are stateless people. Bangladesh is not giving newborns, for example, documents to show that they have any status at all in the country. So what is the way forward?

SCHWARTZ: The bottom line is they - Rohingya have been in Myanmar for centuries. They have legitimate claims to citizenship there. And the notion that they're stateless or somehow they are kind of an alien people is nonsense. It is nonsense. It is a myth perpetrated by the authorities in Myanmar. So yeah, the government of Bangladesh should have policies that are tolerant and willing to take care of the Rohingya for as long as they need to be taken care of. But the culprit here is the government and the military in Myanmar.

The government of Bangladesh needs to do what it is doing, and it needs to do more. And the international community needs to assist the government of Bangladesh. But ultimately, the solution for these people should be a solution in Myanmar. Until that's possible, the international community and the government of Bangladesh have a responsibility to provide these people with the refuge they deserve.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eric Schwartz is president of Refugees International. Thank you so much.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

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