The New York Times published an article yesterday titled “Will the Rohingya Ever Return Home?” That profoundly sad & heartbreaking question must be on the mind of every Rohingya refugee living in squalor & without rights in Bangladesh & other countries. Their situation differs from many refugees because they are stateless, denied legal identity & citizenship by Burma which refuses to call them by their proper name but refers to them contemptuously as “Bengalis.” Their existential crisis is not just a matter of losing belongings, livestock, lands but their historic ties to Arakan/Rakhine state, their culture, social, economic, & political life in all their richness & complexities, & their cohesion as a people. The genocide against them is a political & psychological dislocation shattering the very foundations of their lives. Where do they go from here?
They must also be asking “If we cannot return to Burma, can we remain living in such squalor in Bangladesh where our children have no rights, no futures, no hopes nor dreams? Will they live & die in such conditions?” With so many countries like China & Russia arming the Burmese junta & so many others raking in billions from trade & investments in Burma, are the odds against them too great? Is it time for the Rohingya to write their obituary as a people?
They know damn well there’s no point in false or romantic hopes. Without the development of massive political opposition to the military junta within Burma (as there was in 1988) & an opposition that can bring down a very entrenched, adaptable, & powerful fascist regime, the odds against the Rohingya safely returning to Burma for a long while are very dire. Without such an internal opposition & in the absence of sustained & massive international solidarity, the Rohingya people will likely be in exile for a while. But nothing in this world is static, especially in the barbaric phase of capitalism. The Burmese economy is controlled by the generals who are implementing a neoliberal economic program to solve the stagnation crises of military capitalism. This is placing them at odds with Burmese working people & farmers who are being expropriated, environmentally poisoned, & displaced. Since Burma is a prison house of nations, they are also engaged in civil wars with several ethnic groups, some of whom have expressed solidarity with the Rohingya people.
Media portrays the Burmese people as a solid phalanx of racism against the Rohingya people & fully supportive of the genocide. It doesn’t help that the Catholic Church is part of that. The 1988 movement was a long time ago in political terms but it left a heritage & shows what is possible in Burma other than sniveling support to the fascist junta. Any opposition that does exist is either in exile, in prison, or subjected to repression. When did that ever stop tough-minded men & women from rejecting tyranny & fighting for justice?
By collaborating & building forms of solidarity, particularly in defense of refugee rights, we can help embolden political opposition. The two young Reuters reporters arrested for exposing massacres of the Rohingya are just one expression of political opposition we know exists. If we defend them, we will give heart to other Burmese that they will not be alone if they speak out against genocide, ethnic repression & war, neoliberal exploitation & plunder. Building the forms of international solidarity are of the essence in helping the Rohingya people get back home to live in peace as their children deserve.
Photo is Rohingya woman at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh.
(Photo by Adam Dean for NY Times)