Member of the European Parliament for Estonia, Urmas Paet (Reform/ALDE), has visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. According to Paet, the regime in Myanmar has wanted to rid itself of the Rohingya for decades and is now displacing them systematically.
"Some would call this ethnic cleansing, others straightforward genocide. The most recent wave has lasted since Aug. 25 last year, with their houses and villages systematically being burned down, people killed, and women raped. All of this forced the refugees to leave," Paet said, describing the situation to ETV's "Ringvaade" broadcast.
"Today there are some 100,000 Rohingya left in an area in Myanmar where there once were a little over a million, everyone else has escaped to Bangladesh," Paet added.
Displacement of Rohingya driven by racism
Racism was the term to use when describing Myanmar's reason to push out the Rohingya, Paet said. "They were never granted citizenship," he added. "They weren't allowed to move inside the country, they could only remain within their area, education and medical services were basically out of the question for them. They were really never treated as humans in that state."
Why a buddhist state would treat the Rohingya this way according to Paet is based at least to some extent on the fact that the country has been a military dictatorship for decades, and run by generals. Despite recent changes, this is essentially still the case, Paet said.
Beyond that, extremism did occur in buddhism as well, he added. "It's not like there's one religion that only deals in niceties, and the others have both nice and bad traits," Paet said. "As Myanmar has shown, there are attacks on the Rohingya by local men of faith as well."
EU demands access for international observers
Paet, along with other MEPs, visited a refugee camp in Bangladesh to see the situation with his own eyes before meeting with representatives of Myanmar's government to submit the European Union's demands regarding the crisis.
The EU demands of Myanmar that the country admit international observers and begin the investigation of crimes committed against the Rohingya. If steps towards identifying and prosecuting the attackers don't follow soon, the EU will have no other choice than to revert to an earlier stage of its relations with Myanmar, Paet said.
Reforms taken by the Myanmar government since 2011 recently led to much improved relations with the union. This progress is now in danger. The EU is still insisting on a fact-finding mission concerning the treatment of the Rohingya.
Condition in refugee camp difficult, area threatened by flooding
According to Paet, the conditions in the refugee camp they visited are bad. The camp is very large at currently some 600,000 people. "It all happened very suddenly, the number of refugees was very large. At this point they're getting food from aid organizations about once a month. The rest of the time they are left to their own devices," Paet said, adding that though Bangladesh is a sizeable country, it is also a poor state.
The question how to resolve the situation is difficult to answer, Paet said. The most sensible approach would be to increase international pressure on Myanmar to the point where the country is forced to allow international organizations to enter its territory and guarantee at least basic security in the area to make it possible for some of the refugees to turn around.
"If they don't do that, then there's no good solution, because let's be honest, Bangladesh doesn't want them either. It is ready to give up some land where they can have their camp, but that's it. And in a month and a half, when the monsoon season starts, half of that camp will be flooded, it's in an area half of which is under water every year, so they'll have to evacuate again," Paet said.
Editor: Dario Cavegn