International Conference on Connecting the Rohingya Diaspora: Highlighting the Global Displacement
The first Constitution of the Union of Burma recognised every person within the territory as its citizens (1). Yet, subsequently Myanmar has scrapped the citizenship rights of the Rohingya minority predominantly living in the Arakan State, and forced them into exile from their ancestral lands. More than a million Rohingya have left Myanmar in the face of widespread human rights violations, persecution and systemic ethnic cleansing. The United Nations has termed them as one of the most persecuted people in the world. According to Azeem Ibrahim, currently the reality facing the Rohingyas is the threat of genocide (2). Two years back in August 2017, Rohingyas have faced brutal atrocities at the hands of the government forces and local Buddhist Rakhines in the Arakan. Facing widespread and virulent violence against them the bulk of the Rohingyas had to leave their homeland and take refuge in Bangladesh. It is now a fact that a traumatized group of people larger than the population of Bhutan now live in Bangladesh (3). Bhutan has a population of less than 800,000 and it probably took 60,000 years to become Bhutan, but the bulk of the stateless Rohingyas, now numbering over 1.1 million, entered and settled in Bangladesh in less than three months (4), after facing, what the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, commissioned by the Human Rights Council of the UN, termed, "genocidal intent" at the hands of the Myanmar military in the Arakan region in the month of August 2017 (5).
However, this was not the first time the Rohingyas facing violence had left their birthplace. Over the decades, the Rohingyas, without any legal or other kind of protection, have been the victims of wanton discrimination and violence at the hands of both the virulently anti -Muslim Buddhist groups and agents of the central government. According to the Azeem Ibrahim, ever since Burma became independent in 1948 the Rohingyas have been increasingly targeted by the state and politicians. The Myanmar’s military and government officials wanted to expel them from their homeland while the main opposition ignored their plight (6).
After the 1982 citizenship law, successive governments in Myanmar have adopted legal and administrative measures that progressively eroded the political and civil rights of the Rohingya people. Facing this discrimination, the Rohingya people began leaving their country
(1) “Every person born in any of the territories included within the Union, of parents both of whom are, or they had been alive at the commencement of this constitution would have been, citizens of the Union.”- The Constitution of the Union of Burma (1947, p. 2), available at: See: The Constitution of the Union of Burma, 24 September 1947, effective 4 January 1948. Cited in https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/ 79573/85699/F1436085708 /MMR79573.pdf.
(2) Ibrahim, A. (2016). The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide, C. Hurst and Co. Publisher Ltd, London, U.K.
(3) Ahmed, I. ed. (2019), The Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Towards Sustainable Solutions, Centre for Genocide Studies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
(5) See, Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Human Rights Council, Thirty-ninth session, 10–28 September 2018, p. 16.
(6) Ibrahim, op.cit.
Over the decades, the Rohingyas spread out and settled in many countries for the sake of security/survival and making a decent future to their lives. Driven out from Myanmar over several decades, the Rohingyas have been labelled as 'the most persecuted people on earth.' But resilience has led members of the stateless community to carve out new lives in different parts of the world, including in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Canada, Australia, Europe, the United States, and many other countries in the Middle East, Southeast and East Asia. Many of them fled Myanmar as children. Some have been granted citizenship, asylum, and refugee status while others live in the shadows with no legal status or protection. Some have ended in prisons or perished during the journey. Currently the Rohingya diaspora is present in the following countries in four continents:
1. Asia: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka.
2. Europe: United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Netherlands.
3. North America: Canada and the United States.
In the light of the above, the international conference to be held in August 25-26, 2020 aims to bring the Rohingya diaspora community living around the world together to learn about their journey of resilience. It is to be mentioned that, in 2018, ActionAid, the Centre for Genocide Studies, University of Dhaka, Centre for Peace and Juctice, BRAC University, organized an International Conference titled Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Towards Sustainable Solutions and published an edited volume with the paper presented in the conference. The 3-day conference ended with the Dhaka Declaration. Later the consortium also organized an international seminar on Accountability: The International Criminal Court and the Rohingya Crisis among other advocacy events.
The conference will highlight the widespread human rights violation, persecution and systemic ethnic cleansing as well as no citizenship identity faced by Rohingya people in Myanmar which made them to leave their birthplace. The conference will also explore and examine the existing socio-economic conditions and political situations of the Rohingya diaspora, and the support provided to them for social inclusion in the host countries, and the relationship they have with the Rohingyas both inside and outside Myanmar and the future plans of the Rohingya diaspora people.
Target audience: Governments, civil society, Rohingya diaspora communities and multilateral agencies.
Broader advocacy objective: To contribute towards ensuring justice and accountability for safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh.
Advocacy plan emerging from the conference: Engaging countries to support ICC/ICJ ruling hence supporting justice and accountability for Rohingya people.
Outcome and Proposed Activities
Governments of different countries, international organizations and multilateral agencies are aware about the discrimination faced by Rohingya people and committed to support the process of ensuring justice and accountability. It must be a condition met for the repatriation to Myanmar to be completely voluntary, in safety and dignity and in line with international standards for the Rohingya people in Bangladesh.
Organizing the conference and publishing the booklet requires extensive collaboration among the academics, diaspora and migration experts, human rights activist and researchers from the Rohingya diaspora in four continents. Researchers from the Rohingya host countries including Rohingya researchers/academics/activists will be invited to attend the conference. During the conference researchers will mainly deliver a brief on the "state of Rohingya diaspora in their respective countries." For doing so, the conference would connect with both Rohingya and non-Rohingya researchers. The three major activities of the conference are:
1. Follow up on the Dhaka Declaration
2. Organizing a conference;
3. Publishing a booklet;
The papers from the researchers for the conference publication would focus on following issues:
1. Country of living
2. History of arrival (when and how?)
3. State of living back home
4. Number of Rohingyas in host country
5. Gender percentage
6. Number of children
7. Education profile
8. Employment profile
9. Religious/spiritual life
10. Political association
11. Support network in Myanmar (if any)
12. Rohingya association (if any) and
13. Future plans
This will be a virtual conference considering the COVID 19 situation.
Around 10 researchers (TBC) from countries with a sizeable Rohingya population. The 2-day conference will invite the stakeholders, both national and international , altogether around 300 .
ActionAid, Center for Genocide Studies (CGS), University of Dhaka and Center for Peace and Justice (CPJ), Brac University.