By Howard Lee
The plight of the Rohingya people extends way back beyond Myanmar’s current domestic political issues, and attention needs to be paid on their rights as citizens of Myanmar.
This point, together with a historical perspective of the Rohingya, was shared and discussed at a forum held last Saturday, 6 June, hosted by Singapore human rights group Maruah in partnership with the Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics and The Opinion Collaborative.
Maruah’s president Ms Braema Mathi presented a background on the Rohingya and Rakhine state to a group of participants consisting of Singaporeans and Burmese, before hosting an open discussion.
Participants contributed their views and unique perspectives on the Rohingya, including insights on racial-religious relations between various ethnic groups in Rakhine in specific and Myanmar in general.
Participants learnt that the religious unrest was fairly unique to Rakhine, as Muslims and Buddhist co-existed peacefully in other parts of Myanmar. This suggested that there could be political agitators that have increased sectarian unrest in Rakhine.
It was also shared that the unrest in Rakhine had actually been taking place for decades, and only came to international attention due to the boat refugees who sought asylum on the shores of neighbouring countries.
It was also pointed out that the current position of the Myanmar government calling the Rohingya “illegal immigrants” is incorrect, as the Rohingya has actually existed in Myanmar for centuries, with their own language and culture, and are rightfully Burmese by nationality.
Participants also discussed how the current efforts by the Myanmar government to offer the Rohingya official citizenship might take longer than it needs to ensure their survival, given the coming elections and the need for political parties to appease the Buddhist majority.
To that effect, it was suggested that the international community might need to press harder for the Myanmar government to improve the speed and transparency in the citizenship process.
Editor’s note: The term “Burmese” has been used in this article, as there is currently no stated consensus on whether the people of Myanmar should be called “Burmese” or “Myanmarese”. The spoken language of many in Myanmar is still called “Burmese”.