Why did the world fail in assisting Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar?

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Start of crisis creation

Arakan or Rakhine State is one of the provinces of Myanmar close to the Bangladesh border. In the 15th century, there was close cooperation of Arakan province with Bengal. Sultan of Bengal helped the Arakan king (Belonging to the Mrauk U dynasty founded by King Min Saw Mon) to get back the throne. In return, King Min Saw Mon, allowed the Muslims of Bengal to stay there. It was the beginning of the Muslim settlement in the Arakan province.

Those days Myanmar was the neighbour of Arakan province. In 1784, Myanmar won Arakan and assimilated in Myanmar. During colonial expansion, Britishers expanded their footprints to the east of India i.e., Myanmar. In 1824, the Arakan region was ceded to the British through the Treaty of Yandabo. By the time, the Industrial revolution (1760-1840) started in Britain was at its peak. Britishers started migrating labours in the Rakhine region so that maximum resources can be extracted.

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Initially, the Muslim population in Arakan province was very less. But for the exploitation of natural resources labours were needed. Bengali labours started getting good salary there. The pace of migration increased. British started incentivizing people to come to that region. Bengal Muslims got settled in the Mayu frontier area. In the Mayu frontier area, there was a 155% increase in the Muslim population between 1871 and 1911. Soon, those areas become the Muslim majority province.

Britishers used the term “Chittagonians” for these community. These communities call themselves Rohingyas. The local Burmese community don’t accept these people as part of Myanmar. They call them illegal migrants. It was not unique to the Rakhine. Britishers have migrated Tamilians to Sri Lanka and Biharis to Mauritius, Fiji, and other parts of the world. At present, around 68% of the Mauritian population is of Indian descent. For the same reason, Sri Lanka faced civil wars where Singhalese have problems with the Tamil community.

The surge of crisis in the post-colonial period

Differences in faith (Rohingya believes in Islam and Local population believes in Buddhism) have further increased this gap. Violence continued between the two communities. It gained prominence during the second world war. Britishers have become weak. Japan attacked Britishers. In order to get local support, the Britishers promised the Rohingya community to support the British in return for an autonomous region in return.

Following the footprint of the first world war, the British again deceived a nation. This time it was Rakhine province. During the first world war, Britain promised Jews for “national home” in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Paradoxically, the same British have gone for a secret deal with France to divide the whole Arab land after the end of the first world war. That agreement is secretly finalized between France and Britain as the “Sykes-Picot Agreement.”

After the second world war, the British had not fulfilled their promises even though the British was a part of the Allied powers who have won the second world war. Britishers had become weak. India got independence on 15th August 1947. A few months later, Myanmar also got independent on 4 January 1948. In Rakhine province, in north Rohingya Muslims were in majority and in the southern region, Myanmar Buddhists were in majority number.

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Rohingya Muslims started demanding to merge them with then Pakistan (Currently Bangladesh). It added fuel to the fire. Myanmar Government became more strict toward them. On the other side, a section of Rohingya has started an armed struggle against the Myanmar government. It has further escalated the reactions of the government of Myanmar. In 1982, the Myanmar government came with a law to deny citizenship to Rohingya Muslims. The name of the province was changed from Arakan to Rakhine in 1990.

Since then, Rohingya became stateless. In August 2017, communal tension between the Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists reached to peak. Myanmar army (Also called as Tatmadaw) allegedly played role in the process of the exodus of Rohingyas. Myanmar army has been denying its role since 2017. This new wave of violence forced Rohingya Muslims to take shelter in the neighbouring countries including Bangladesh and India.

Bangladesh a scapegoat

Initially, the PM of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, offered to give shelter to Rohingya Muslims on a humanitarian basis. Nealy 12 lakh Rohingyas have been living in Bangladesh. Bangladesh spends nearly $300 million (Rs 2200 crore in Indian currency) per month on Rohingya Refugees. The intensity of the spending can be understood from the fact that on average India spends Rs 2200 crore per year on Ayushman Bharat Scheme. The same amount is being spent by Bangladesh per month.

Recently Bangladesh decided to relocate 1,600 Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to a remote Island. It is also true that Island is not safe for human habitat. The whole world is criticizing Bangladesh including the UN human right commission. Multilateral institutions need to criticize the Government of Myanmar and the colonial power who has been one of the causes of this crisis. Environmentally, this crisis has forced the disappearance of nearly 8000-acre forests. More than 2000 government employees of Bangladesh have been engaged in their management.

Why Bangladesh is paying for humanitarian relief? Why India is being criticized around the world over a new citizenship act 2019. Bangladesh and India both have limited resources. Definitely, first priority of the national government would look after the nationals. In the end, Bangladesh gave up due to the world’s reluctance. Bangladesh has told the UN that it won’t accept Rohingyas anymore. The government of India came up with the NRC and New citizenship act 2019 to deny acceptance of Rohingyas anymore.

Failure of the world order

Why don’t world governance is keen on finding a solution to it? It is so because currently, the world order is in disorder. Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran in their book, “The New World disorder and the Indian imperative” rightly say that the current world is a state of disorder. The leading hegemon has been running away from the responsibilities. Even the newly formed Biden administration has more concerned for the Saudi over Jamal Khashoggi assassination but he is also silent over the solution to the Rohingya’s US.

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United Nation (UN) has provided Lip service to Bangladesh and Rohingyas in this regard. Bangladesh PM, Sheikh Hasina, even proposed for the UN Peace Keeping Force (UNPKF) to contain ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in her UN General assembly speech in 2017. UN peacekeeping force works like the police. It has even very limited power. It can’t even take strong actions. Their decisions have been taken by the P5 countries (US-Russia-France-Britain-China). Thus, it is bound to become a part of the geopolitical game. Apart from it, Article 2(7) of the UN charter, stops intervention in the domestic matters of states.

To deal with this grey area and protect human right across the world, leading power came with the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine in 2002. UN General Assembly adopted a generation resolution known as responsibility to protect (R2P) in 2005. It allows international communities to intervene in domestic affairs in case of Human rights violation by the state and failures of the state. It redefined the concept of sovereignty from “Power centric” to “Responsibility centric.”

A litmus test was done in Libya in 2011. The US took lead under a responsibility to protect doctrine in 2011 in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi. Even the communist bloc (Russia and China) have not opposed that mission. The US misused the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine. Followed by this the world failed to get a consensus in the next event i.e., the Syrian crisis. Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Consequently, since then the world-leading power failed to get consensus over intervening and solving humanitarian crises with hard power. The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is in the same row. Another reason is that currently, the world is in the transition period from Pax-Americana to Pax-Sinica. In the transition period, issues are ignored. In the language of political scientists, currently, the world is in “The Kindleberger Trap“.

Charles Kindleberger was one of the architects of the Marshall plan after the second world war. Kindleberger trap is generally referred to as the 1930s decade when the Pax-Britannica was being replaced by Pax-Americana. The US failed to take Britain role in providing global public goods. The result was the collapse of the global system into depression, genocide, and world war. An almost a similar situation has been created around the world. The world aid program has been facing a financial crunch in helping the crisis-prone regions.

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Light at the end of the tunnel

China should not miss this opportunity to express itself as a responsible power in the world. COVID-19 pandemic has devastated and put a dent in the Chinese image. It could be the potential zone where it could prove the preposition of “Chinese exceptionalism.” Currently, Military rule is in Myanmar which has very close proximity to China. China can also mediate this issue for the peaceful settlement of the region. The unsettled region in the extended region is also not a good idea for any big power.

India as a major power in the region should also speak for the peaceful settlement of the issue. India’s NRC and new citizenship amendment act 2019 which is an action in the right direction would not materialize until a peaceful solution to it could be founded. Until then, identification of Rohingyas can be done along with adherence to the principle of non-refoulment. This principle guarantees that “No one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm.”

Some of the good steps have been taken by the Government of India. India gifted 500 houses to Myanmar for Rohingyas. There has been good relation between India with Myanmar. Myanmar government has helped India a lot in the eradication of insurgency in the north-eastern region of India. Consequently according to the home ministry statistics, “There has been a 70% reduction in insurgency incidents and an 80% drop in civilian deaths in the northeast in 2019 compared to 2013.” It won’t be possible without support from Bangladesh and Myanmar. It has been a successful role model which gives hope for light at the end of the tunnel.


  1. BBC | Treaty of Yandabo
  2. Ministry of External Affairs | India – Mauritius Relations
  3. The Conversation | The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the making of the modern Middle East
  4. The Guardian | Myanmar casts minorities to the margins as citizenship law denies the legal identity
  5. The week | Myanmar’s army chief says Rohingya exodus ‘exaggerated’
  6. Benar News | Bangladesh Spends $300 Million Per Month on Rohingya Refugees
  7. The Print | Bangladesh relocates 1,600 Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to remote island for ‘better abode’
  8. The Quint | Won’t accept any more Rohingya refugees: Bangladesh tells UN
  9. UN Peacekeeping | Addressing Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh proposes UN-monitored ‘safe zones’ in Myanmar
  10. The Guardian | Libya, the UN and the R2P debate
  11. BBC News | Syria war: Russia and China veto sanctions
  12. The Print | Nobody to claim them, 250 houses India gifted Myanmar for Rohingyas lie vacant
  13. The Hindu | 70% decline in insurgency incidents in northeast
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