The prevailing situation in Rakhine State is highly volatile due to ongoing armed clashes between Myanmar army and ethnic Buddhist Rakhine insurgent group known as Arakan Army.
Clashes in townships of Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Ponnakyun, Kyauktaw, and Mrouk Oo in Rakhine state and Paletwa in Chin state have on the rise over past several months. Myanmar military is reportedly using heavy launchers, helicopter gunships, and fighter planes.
Over the past two days, there has been a dramatic increase in the armed clashes between Arakan Army and Myanmar military in Buthidaung Township. On March 28, 2019, there was reportedly a heavy explosion near Rohingya village of Fuimali. Witnesses have seen and heard the explosion from villages as far as 6 miles away (Fig. 1) on the other side of the Mayu River, followed by heavy gunfire lasting several hours on and off (attachment: MP4 clip 1). Dozens of Rohingya homes have been reportedly torched (attachment: MP4 clip 2). There has been a continuous outflow of thousands of ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Rohingya resident villagers heading to safety as the fight rages. Most ethnic Rakhine displaced person were sheltered in large Buddhist monasteries and unaffected Rakhine villages, and humanitarian relief for them is reportedly coming from various national and local Buddhist aid groups that are allowed to operate by the Myanmar Government.
Over 2,000 Rohingya have been displaced in Buthidaung Township during the past two days, most taking refuge in the school buildings in Fuimali and nearby Rohingya villages in Buthidaung South. There have been limited food assistance for those displaced Rohingya families that are being provided by the families in nearby villages that are already strained with economic hardship. No humanitarian assistance has reportedly come from any relief group.
Humanitarian relief supplies are urgently needed for the displaced Rohingya families.
It should be noted that Rohingya people are not a part of the current conflict between Arakan Army and Myanmar military and not taking any side. On the contrary, Buddhist Rakhine mobs and militia and certain other tribal Buddhists actively participated during the Myanmar military’s onslaught against Rohingya civilian population in August 2017 that drove over 800,000 Rohingya out of their homeland in Arakan.
Refugee Repatriation status
Repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh remains in stalemate since the Government of Myanmar signed a MoU over a year ago for voluntary and dignified return of the refugees to their original homes in Rakhine state. The continuous delay in repatriation is apparently due to inadequate preparation by the Government of Myanmar for the return of the refugees to their original home villages and non-conducive conditions on the ground. As the armed clashes between the Arakan Army and Myanmar military escalates the repatriation of Rohingya refugees appears to be far gloomy than ever.
On the contrary, Myanmar Government continues to claim that it is ready to receive the returnees. However, it was not made clear where the refugees will be returning to. The refugees are willing to return to their original home/villages with security assurance and basic rights.
ARAKAN ROHINGYA UNION
Some pre-fabricated housing units have been reportedly built with the assistance from China and India in the western side of the Rohingya village of Shweza in Maungdaw North.
Sources from the ground have indicated that the internally displaced persons from other minority groups, such as Hindus and tribal Buddhists, are reportedly given priority for the resettlement and rehabilitation, and the process is still underway. Indian teams have been reportedly seen at these sites coordinating the construction with Myanmar authorities.
Myanmar Government officials have been surveying the crop fields and other cultivating lands that were left behind by Rohingya farmers who have been rendered refugees and living in camps in Bangladesh. Sources have indicated that the Rohingya farm lands being surveyed are to be transformed to new settlements for Rohingya returnees leaving no land for cultivation.
The fully or partially gutted original Rohingya villages are left barren under the control of the government with no signs of allowing the Rohingya inhabitants to return to their original homes.
Citizenship and basic human rights
In the midst of the volatile situation in Northern Rakhine state and the deadlocked refugee repatriation, the citizenship and basic human right issues remain the major concern of the Rohingya people. Imposition of NVC (National Verification Cards) process for Rohingya is a major obstacle in reinstatement of citizenship for Rohingya. Myanmar Government, particularly the military, continues to force Rohingya to fill in application for NVC with name designation “Bengali”. Despite the repeated calls by the Rohingya leadership in Myanmar and the diaspora,
there is no sign of reinstating the National Registration Card (NRC) of Rohingya people that was issued by the Government of Myanmar several decades ago. The White Cards that were issued to Rohingya voters in the 2010 National Election were abruptly voided by the military just ahead of 2015 National Election, and the cards have not been reinstated. It is highly unlikely that ethnic Rohingya population will be allowed to participate in the electoral process in 2020 National Election and beyond, unless the Government takes a pragmatic approach to find a political
solution to the Rohingya issues.
Major breakdown of social and economic fabrics in Rohingya areas
The remaining Rohingya population in Rakhine State, estimated at a little over 400,000, have been facing extreme difficulties for their sustenance. Farming and fishing has always been the foundation of local economy in Northern Rakhine state. Exodus of nearly a million people from hundreds of Rohingya villages has left the vacuum with little or no food production or limited number of buyers. Continuous travel restrictions on Rohingya people has made the
economic situation bad to worse. Further gradual outflow of people is still underway to neighboring countries in the region, and human trafficking is still active although at a much smaller scale than those during the previous years. Major crackdowns by Bangladesh government on narcotic trades across the border have reportedly slowed down the drug traffic in Northern Rakhine State.
Government is evidently planning to replace Rohingya villages in Maungdaw South in the village tracks of Alay Thangyaw, Merrulla, Shilkhali and other locations in the area. Reports from the ground have indicated that local township officials have been discreetly bringing in ethnic Buddhist tribal population from the hilly areas of Mayu range in the East and Central Myanmar to occupy Rohingya farm lands and settle in the gutted Rohingya villages. New housing units have also been reportedly built as part of the settlement in southern Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships for the newly arriving ethnic Buddhist population. General Rohingya public have no access to these settlement areas.
Escalation of armed clashes between Arakan Army and Myanmar Military is likely to take heavy toll on existing Rohingya villages in Northern Rakhine state. The military and Rakhine state officials are likely to devise strategic assaults on Arakan Army aiming at further destabilization in Rohingya areas, creating displacements of Rohingya and other ethnic populations at least internally. The repatriation of the refugees from Bangladesh to their original homes appear to be a major challenge in coming months or possibly years. The NVC process with the designation of Rohingya as Bengali is the centerpiece of the problems in addressing the citizenship issue.
Dehumanization of Rohingya and hate speech by the Myanmar military leadership in the media
potentially will cause more violence and instability in Rakhine State: