ROHINGYA: A forgotten people
It has been exactly six months when the Rohingyas started streaming into Bangladesh to escape the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and it took exactly that many months for the world to forget them, to make them truly nobody's children.
The uproar that rose from one corner of the world to the other over the cruel genocide of the Rohingyas, who the UN sees as the most persecuted people of modern time, is no more heard.
There are new areas of interests for the media, Syria for example, that have swept the Rohingyas off the pages. Some insistent media outlets somehow push them in inner pages.
THE FASTEST GROWING REFUGEE CRISIS
On August 25 last year, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas started fleeing military operations in Myanmar's Rakhine State and crossing the border to take shelter in Bangladesh. Dhaka has signed a repatriation deal with Naypyidaw. But the conditions of the deal are so stringent that the chance of their return remains bleak.
TEXTBOOK CASE of ethnic cleansing
With the Rohingyas streaming into Bangladesh fleeing a brutal crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State, the UN rights body chief denounced the atrocities as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing". There have been multiple reports of security forces and local vigilantes burning Rohingya villages, shooting unarmed civilians and raping women. Myanmar's de facto leader Suu Kyi and the military keep facing the condemnation of global community amid calls for an end to violence against the world's one of the most persecuted minority groups. The Bangladesh government and the local community in Cox's Bazar bordering Rakhine State have been widely praised for the response to the never-seen-before influx, especially for keeping the border open.
* Bangladesh has handed a list of 8,032 Rohingyas to be repatriated in the first phase. A week has gone by and nothing has been heard so far from across the border.
* WFP has already provided $80m in food aid and the agency is finding it hard to find more food. It needs $20-25m every month to feed the Rohingyas.
* About Myanmar's plan for new camps to be set up for the returnees, rights activists and aid groups fear they will become the blueprint for the wider incarceration of the whole ethnic minority.
Meantime, a raw deal has been thrust down the Rohingyas' throat in the name of repatriation. Some conditions of the deal are so stringent -- the returnees must show national registration cards or documents of residency, something impossible for the Rohingyas to present as they had to hastily flee in the face of killings and torching of houses -- that the chance of their return remains bleak. These are tricky conditions as most Rohingyas have no documentation at all.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmud Ali had rejected the deal on October 9 in a briefing for diplomats, saying the "criteria is not realistic". Only six weeks later, the government agreed to the deal. There is no deadline for the repatriation; it can go on for ever.
There are now more than one million Rohingyas in Bangladesh. The deal stipulates that highest 300 will be repatriated a day, making completion of the repatriation a difficult arithmetic feat. Bangladesh has handed a list of 8,032 Rohingyas for repatriation in the first phase. A week has gone by, but nothing has been heard so far from across the border.
But the bigger question is: Where will these people return to, if the repatriation begins at all? As the latest Human Rights Watch report shows, the Rohingya villages which were burned have now been flattened with bulldozers. There is now not a single sign that any human habitation ever existed there.
Richard Weir, a Myanmar expert with the HRW, said, "There's no more landmark, there's no tree, there's no vegetation. Everything is wiped away."
And everything means everything -- their culture, their history, their mosques, the graveyards, their past -- so that these people literally become new settlers with no ties to the land.
So what will be their homes? Camps are being set up to house them. These camps will be no less than the Gestapo concentration camps.
After the 2012 communal violence, the Myanmar government had put more than 100,000 Rohingya and other ethnic people in camps in Sittew, which have become an "open-air prison" enclosed by barbed-wire barricades and manned by security forces.
No one can move in or out without permission. Illness is not treated and death comes cheap. Time magazine has headlined a story on these camps as "These Aren't Refugee Camps, They're Concentration Camps, and People Are Dying in Them".
About the plan for new camps to be set up for the returnees, rights activists and aid groups fear they will become the blueprint for the wider incarceration of the whole ethnic minority. The Rohingyas are to become the new Jews, the new Gypsies, the new communists of our time.
And in Bangladesh, things are already stretching at the seams. Housing and feeding one million foreigners is always a daunting task. Thanks to our army, the chaos is now under control, the refugees are properly biometrically registered and a system has been put in place.
But for now, the camps remain over-crowded, their conditions far below any kind of international standard for acceptable living. The major challenge now facing the situation is to arrange food in future.
The World Food Programme has said donors were gradually losing interest in providing food for the Rohingyas. It has already provided $80 million in food aid and the UN agency is finding it hard to find more food. It needs $20-25 million every month to feed them.
Risks of human trafficking, violence, spread of terrorism and environmental degradation are high. And nobody knows how these people will fare when the monsoon arrives in a few months and diseases spread.
Meantime, the UN after its earlier attempts to pass a resolution on Rohingyas seems to have lost interest in the matter. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who had made an unprecedented move since the 1989 Lebanon crisis to send a letter to the Security Council to discuss Myanmar, has fallen silent. He must have realised by now that no result can be achieved in the face of obstinate opposition of China and Russia.
On February 13, the UN discussed Myanmar when Bangladesh urged the UN Security Council to visit Rohingya camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar and see for themselves their plight.
The UN special envoy on sexual violence, Pramila Patten, had promised she would raise the issue of persecution of Rohingyas with the International Criminal Court.
"When I return to New York, I will brief and raise the issue with the prosecutor and president of the ICC whether [Myanmar's military] can be held responsible for these atrocities," she said in November last year after visiting some Rohingya camps.
She has probably forgotten that promise, or perhaps her effort yielded no result.
And so the call for ICC trial continues as the Fortify Rights has this month once again called on the ICC to investigate genocide in Myanmar. Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have documented Myanmar's massacres, mass gang-rapes and arson attacks against Rohingyas.
And Myanmar remains high and mighty with support from China in its approach towards the Rohingyas. Only recently in January, it has denied entry of a UN special rapporteur into Myanmar.
Its repatriation offers smack of greater vice with all the possibilities that the Rohingyas will be sucked into an unapproachable black hole of concentration camps where they will go into oblivion.