Since the beginning of September, the news of lakhs of refugees from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) fleeing to Bangladesh, amidst reports of repression unleashed by the Myanmar armed forces, has captured international headlines.
According to the Bangladesh government, over 4,20,000 Rohingyas refugees have crossed over since August 25, 2017. They are now lodged in refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazaar area of Bangladesh bordering Myanmar. Bangladesh has called upon the UN and its member states, including India, to put pressure on the government of Myanmar to take steps to halt the further flow of refugees and to take back those who have crossed over.
According to news reports, on August 25, 2017, armed rebels allegedly belonging to the “Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” attacked border posts of the Myanmar armed forces, leading to the death of 12 army men. Following this, the Myanmar Army launched an offensive in the province of Rakhine, carrying out combing operations to catch the insurgents. The wave of refugees fleeing across the border has been attributed by the international media to this military offensive, which has allegedly targeted all the villages in which Rohingya Muslims lived.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra'ad al-Hussein has called the developments in Myanmar “a text book example of ethnic cleansing”. US President Donald Trump has called upon the UN Security Council to take “strong and swift action” to end violence against the Rohingyas in Myanmar. US Vice President Mike Pence accused the Myanmar military of responding to attacks on government outposts "with terrible savagery, burning villages, driving the Rohingya from their homes". He further added "Unless this violence is stopped, which justice demands, it will only get worse. And it will sow seeds of hatred and chaos that may well consume the region for generations to come and threaten the peace of us all." US deputy assistant secretary of state Patrick Murphy visited Myanmar to “voice Washington's concerns about the Rohingyas and press for greater access to the conflict area for humanitarian workers”, according to the US State department. The French President has condemned the events in Myanmar as “genocide”.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has declared that it will deport 40,000 Rohingyas back to Myanmar. These refugees have come to India over the past 5 years through Bangladesh. They are living in various camps in India, including in Jammu, Jaipur, Arunachal Pradesh etc. The refugees have declared that their lives would be under threat if they are sent back to Myanmar. They have raised this in the Supreme Court of India. On the other hand, the government of India has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court justifying its decision to deport these refugees to Myanmar.
The government of India claims that these Rohingyas are not refugees, but illegal immigrants. Furthermore, it has claimed that it has “proof” that they are linked to terrorist organisations like Al Quaida and ISIS. It has also declared that the presence of 40,000 Rohingya people who are of the Muslim faith would lead to communal clashes with people of the Buddhist faith. The stand of the Indian government deserves unreserved condemnation. To label an entire community, living in makeshift refugee camps in the most miserable conditions, far away from their homeland, as a breeding ground of terrorists, is not acceptable. To make out that the presence of these refugees will lead to communal clashes, is to turn truth on its head. The Indian people are known to have a big heart and have always welcomed with open arms, refugees forced to flee their countries, facing persecution there. It is the constant communal hate propaganda of the Indian State and its agencies against the Rohingya refugees, the 24X7 propaganda of mis-information and disinformation, that is leading to a dangerous situation. Furthermore, to talk about repatriating the refugees to Myanmar under the present conditions, is thoroughly against all international norms, even though the government of India claims it is not bound by these norms. It is against all humanitarian considerations.
A grave situation
It is estimated that there are about 1.2 million people called Rohingyas in Myanmar. Most of them are of the Muslim faith, and most of them live in the province of Rakhine. This is a coastal province in the North East of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh.
A grave situation has been created not only for the Rohingya people, but for the people of Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and the entire region. The relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar, and Bangladesh and India have been marked by increasing tension. There is also increased tension between Myanmar on one hand and Malaysia and Indonesia on the other as many Rohingya refugees have tried to flee to those countries. There is increased danger of US imperialist intervention in the region in the name of “upholding human rights”.
The terrible situation confronting the Rohingyas are an outcome of colonial rule and the colonial legacy which still confronts all the former colonised countries of Asia. It has been greatly exacerbated by the brutal imperialist interventions, both covert and overt, in these countries.
Colonialism and colonial legacy
The British colonialists conquered Assam, Arakan (the present day state of Rakhine in Myanmar) and other regions in the 1820’s following a series of bloody wars with the rulers of Burma. In the period preceding the Anglo Burma wars, the Burmese rulers had defeated the Assam rulers as well as those of Arakan and other kingdoms. By 1885, the British colonialists annexed the whole of Burma. British colonial rule over Burma (now Myanmar) lasted from 1826 till 1948.
The British colonialists used their tried and tested method of divide and rule to keep Burma and their other colonies in Asia under their control. They took people from different provinces of India, as indentured labour to work in plantations, farms, etc. In the Rakhine province of Myanmar bordering Bengal, the colonialists encouraged the migration of people from adjoining Bengal. The colonialists ensured that a permanent state of hostility was created amongst the people of Myanmar on the basis of religion, national origin, ethnicity etc.
Burma gained independence from colonial rule in 1948. The Burmese state did not recognize the people of Rakhine province who call themselves Rohingyas, as citizens of Burma. It has treated them as illegal immigrants from Bengal, or India. On the other hand, the governments of India and now Bangladesh declare that the Rohingyas are Burmese citizens. The Rohingyas themselves, on the other hand, trace their origin to the Arakan Kingdom.
Seventy years after the end of colonial rule in South Asia, the Rohingya people are virtually stateless. Neither Myanmar nor India nor Bangladesh is willing to accept them as its citizens. The situation is leading to escalated tensions between Bangladesh on one hand and Myanmar on the other. This is a situation that is being exploited by US imperialism and its allies, to advance their aims of domination over Asia.
The US imperialist game
US imperialism sees Myanmar as a roadblock to encircling China. China and Myanmar have close economic and political relations. For several years, US imperialism has been using the card of “restoring democracy” and “ending human rights violations” to interfere in Myanmar, with the aim of carrying out regime change.
Now once again, US imperialism is using the refugee crisis to interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs. When US imperialism and its allies raise a noise about human rights violations against this or that country, it is extremely important that people recognize the danger signs. The US has a history of organising terrorist groups and instigating civil war, to justify open military intervention. The aim, in each case, has been to destroy the targeted state and establish its domination there.
People must not forget the bitter experience of Syria over the past six years, as well as that of Yugoslavia more than two decades ago. The US imperialists set up ISIS and encouraged various opposition groups in Syria to unleash a brutal civil war six years ago. Their aim was to redraw the map of West Asia. This civil war has resulted in millions of refugees whose lives have been totally destroyed.
In Yugoslavia, the US imperialists let loose their agents to instigate brutal civil war in Bosnia and Serbia. Their aim, amongst other things, was to completely break up Yugoslavia and establish one of their biggest military bases in Kosova. There too, the atrocities said to have been committed by the Serbian government was the pretext for US military intervention.
The Rakhine province in Myanmar occupies a strategic place. Huge reserves of hydrocarbons in the Bay of Bengal along the coast of the province were discovered in 2004. China built gas and oil pipelines from a port in Rakhine to China’s Yunnan province, at a distance of 770 km. The oil pipeline became operational earlier this year. It allows China to transport oil from West Asia and Africa bypassing the Malacca straits, which China fears could be blocked by the US armed forces. The gas pipeline is transporting hydrocarbons from Myanmar’s offshore fields to China.
The intensification of the conflict in Rakhine province involving the Burmese government and the Rohingyas since 2012 has coincided with the China – Myanmar energy project. The hand of US imperialism is unmistakable.
The so called Burma Task Force, which comprises a number of organisations funded by George Soros, has been actively operating in Myanmar since 2013, calling upon the international community to stop what they call “the genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority group”. Earlier, in 2003, George Soros joined a US Task Force group aimed at increasing "US cooperation with other countries to bring about a long overdue political, economic and social transformation in Burma [Myanmar]." The Council of Foreign Relation's (CFR) 2003 document entitled "Burma: Time For Change," which announced the establishment of the US Task Force group, insisted that "democracy… cannot survive in Burma without the help of the United States and the international community."
The US imperialists are playing a diabolical game. They are instigating conflicts within different Asian countries on the basis of religion and ethnicity, as well as conflicts between neighbouring countries. They are utilizing the Rohingya refugee crisis to destabilize Myanmar and Bangladesh. Their aim is to create instability and spread anarchy in North East India and South East Asia, as they have done in West Asia and North Africa. Far from being a factor for resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis, the US imperialists are part of the problem.
The peoples of Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and other countries of Asia must expose and oppose US imperialist interference in the Rohingya refugee crisis. We must learn from the lessons of history. Each of our countries has a colonial legacy which must be overcome, in order to open the path to progress. This demands that the colonial divide and rule policy be given up, and the rights of all nations and peoples within each country be guaranteed. The Indian state refuses to accept the existence of numerous historically formed nations and peoples within the borders of India. It refuses to guarantee their rights. It deliberately foments divisions on the basis of religion, caste, ethnicity, language and so on, creating a fertile ground for the imperialists to intervene. At the present time, the stand of the Indian state of calling for the deportation of Rohingyas to Myanmar, by highlighting that they are Muslims, is designed to inflame communal tensions. This stand must be condemned by all those who are fighting for the unity and solidarity of the Indian people and of all the peoples of South Asia.