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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Plight of the Rohingya shames the world

Promises to repatriate the dispossessed have failed to materialise or guarantee safety

A Rohingya man at Kutupalong camp in Ukhia, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Chandan Khanna / AFP
A Rohingya man at Kutupalong camp in Ukhia, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Chandan Khanna / AFP

Nearly a year after their horrific ordeal began, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims languishing in refugee camps in Bangladesh are still in limbo.

Their daily battles against hunger and the elements are dwarfed by the fear of returning to their homes in Myanmar and what they might face when they get there.

While Bangladesh has hosted thousands of refugees on its border in Cox’s Bazar and offered aid, as well as tried to negotiate with the Myanmar authorities for their safe return, the current situation is unsustainable.

Promises from Myanmar officials in January to repatriate the dispossessed have failed to materialise and were void of any guarantees of citizenship or protection.

Nor did the talks include the very people left traumatised by murderous rampages conducted by the Myanmar military with impunity.

Their homes and villages have been burned to the ground; their loved ones raped, mutilated and murdered at random. Without assurances that they will be afforded the rights of citizens and have their safety guaranteed if they return, it is impossible for the Rohingya to go back and impossible for them to stay as they are.

They are stuck in a no man’s land, caught between barbarism on one side and a lack of action from the international community on the other. Some remain hopeful that offers of citizenship and security will come; as one farmer told The National in our special report this week: “When we get this we will go home”. But most can see only a bleak future.

The time for inaction is over. The international community must intervene to ensure the Rohingya are given the chance to return with full protection in an operation monitored by independent observers. The longer they are left languishing, the more vulnerable they are to nefarious elements, such as the sex traffickers preying on desperate, starving children.

The scars of the Rohingya run deep; as one 25-year-old recounted, he witnessed the mutilation of his sister before fleeing. His is just one story of thousands that are a reminder of the need to act. The world’s inaction is a mantle of shame and the longer the Rohingya are prevented from returning home, the less likely that they will ever be allowed to and their refugee status will become a permanent one.

Pressure must be brought to bear to hold to account Myanmar authorities, as well as the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose silent complicity has enabled the victimisation of an entire people.

Her lack of moral leadership has been one of the most shocking facets of the tragedy but she has suffered little beyond murmurs of censure and she still holds the Nobel Peace Prize that makes a mockery of her current stance.

She has refused to even acknowledge the Rohingya and is as guilty of dehumanising them as the military who hold sway in Myanmar.

As time goes on, the chances of their safe return diminish and the shame of the silently watching world grows.