Monday 18 January 2016

For a generation of Rohingya, M'sia's their only home


"I learned to read and speak in Bahasa Malaysia from my friends when we lived in a Malay village in Kemaman (Terengganu). I wanted to study more and become a policewoman but I never got the chance," recalled 19-year-old Rohingya refugee Hamida Mohamed Yosuf.

Hamida is one of the 150,000 Rohingyas who call Malaysia home, their families having settled here after fleeing from persecution in Myanmar.

While they have managed to scrape together a semblance of life for themselves here, many yearn for the opportunities that education and legal recognition of their status would bring.

Malaysia's public education system is one of the country's success stories, chalking up a literacy rate of 90 percent. But Rohingya refugees, however long they may have been in the country, do not have access to government-funded schools.

"To get good jobs, you need education. I never had that but I tried to send my eldest son in a government school. They wouldn't take him. They said only children with an identity card can enrolled," said her brother Nur Islam.

However, he did manage to get his 11-year-old son into a religious school in Rawang run by Rohingyas, paying a fee of RM150 a month.

Their father Noor Mahamad said that he had tried to send his children to school but the authorities told him to first get a letter from the Home Ministry.

"But back then I was always working, trying to make a living so I never had the opportunity to do that," he said.

Informal school

More than anything, he wished that his grandchildren would be able to get a proper education.

"I want them to be in school, have an education, and have a better life than us," added Noor.

Ustaz Rafik is a local Rohingya activist in the Selayang Wholesale Market and runs a shelter for the community.

Lately, he has become more concerned about the lack of educational opportunities for the Rohingya people.

He recently started an informal school called 'Rainbow of Hope' for Rohingya children in his community shelter.

"Education is very important, which is why we're establishing community schools so that at least they'll be able to read and write," said Rafik.

"If they don't have education, I'm afraid that the next generation would be left behind as well."

Rainbow of Hope currently has 60 students aged between five and 14. The school is run by local volunteers who teach Basic Mathematics, English, Bahasa Malaysia, and Islamic studies.

He said his students dream of becoming engineers and doctors, but he knows it's unlikely to happen without resources and legal recognition.

"If they have education, even if they live here or elsewhere, at least they'd know how to make their voices heard," noted Rafik. "We hope someone can come forward to provide them with better education opportunities."

Although Hamida herself couldn't become a policewoman, she hasn't lost hope.

"I want my children to be policemen or even doctors someday," she said emphatically.

On the bright side, there are increasingly more informal education centres opening for Rohingya children in Kuala Lumpur, as well as in the northern states of Penang and Kedah.

Crisis of identity

"I miss my village," said Noor. "But my little brother tells me not go back..."

Noor's brother is still living in western Myanmar. Life in Myanmar is difficult and he has had to send money to his brother regularly.

For the older generation of Rohingyas, Myanmar is home. But however much Noor misses his family or his village back home, he has come to terms with the bitter reality that he can't go back.

Rohingyas aren't recognised as citizens in Myanmar's Citizenship Law of 1982, despite some having lived there since the 16th century.

Ironically, in the past two years, as Myanmar moved towards freedom and democracy, the attacks on the country's Muslim minority intensified.

Most of the younger Rohingyas living in Malaysia do not remember much of their home back in Myanmar. Many were born here.

Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and according to the federal constitution, children born within its borders are entitled to citizenship if they can't acquire one of another country within one year of birth.

Despite the constitutional provision, Rohingyas born here neither have citizenship nor basic healthcare and education rights.

For most of the Rohingyas like Hamida who were born and raised in Malaysia, this is the only home they know. They want to be Malaysians.

"I have a birth certificate but it says I'm a Myanmarese," lamented Hamida. "But I feel like I'm Malaysian; I was born here."

From behind her, her cousin Mumtaz (photo), 25, mother of two, spoke up: "I'd give up my life if that means my children will become Malaysian citizens."

Hamida added: "God willing, yes if it's possible, I want my children to be Malaysians."

Asean can do more

Mohamad Yosuf Saleh Ahmed (photo), 23, doesn't like to talk much about his time at sea but he consoles himself with the fact that at least he made it to Malaysia.

"It took us a month. The boat was very cramped, there was very little food and water. I saw five people dying on board but I didn't want to go back to Myanmar because if I did, I'd end up dead," he said.

The thousands of Rohingya refugees who were stranded in the Andaman Sea in May last year made headlines all over the world.

But for most of them, their ordeal had just started after making their dangerous sea journey to the shores of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, as they were refused entry.

Even when they are allowed to stay, the Rohingyas live a traumatic life of exploitation, discrimination and exclusion.

There are a few relatively positive stories like that of Hamida's family but for many others, life has been less kind.

Bilal Biroflhas, an American citizen, is a donor supporting Rainbow of Hope and the shelter run by Ustaz Rafik.

He worries that Rohingyas will be written off as forgotten refugees if they continue to be unrecognised by Southeast Asian countries.

"I feel like there is not enough concern for these people here. The kids can't go to school; the adults can't work legally. I'm disappointed in the Malaysian government for such treatment."

But he feels Rohingyas can have a future in Malaysia. "We're trying to integrate them into society here by teaching them vocational skills and Malay language. The younger children are smart and motivated, and given the chance they can contribute to Malaysian society."

Rafik added, "The solution to the Rohingya problem is greater cooperation, especially from the Myanmar government itself. It needs to be more responsible.

"Asean countries, too, especially Malaysia as the Asean chair (for 2015), can play a more active role to achieve more concrete solution."

It is clear that with the highest number of Rohingyas in its territory, and more incoming, Malaysia has a huge responsibility to respect the rights of the refugees.

But ultimately, it will be up to Myanmar to stop persecuting its own minorities.

Part 1:Rainbow of Hope' for Rohingya children

SONIA AWALE, an intern with Malaysiakini, hails from Nepal and is pursuing her Masters in Journalism at the University of Hong Kong.

'Honouring Guests': How Aceh welcomed Rohingya refugees with open arms

Source ChannelNewsAsia, 17 Jan

Three NTU students are working on a documentary on how the Acehnese welcomed thousands of Rohingya refugees and provided them with food and shelter.

NTU students Goh Chiew Tong and Clarissa Sih, working on the Peumulia Jamee documentary en route to an Acehnese fishing village. (Photo: Jade Han)

SINGAPORE: The Rohingya refugee crisis was one of 2015's top stories. Thousands escaped Myanmar, drifting for months in treacherous waters in the hopes of being accepted by neighbouring countries to start anew.

While many sought to find refuge in Malaysia, Aceh has received thousands of Rohingya refugees with open arms, providing them with food and shelter.

And when a group of three students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) heard about this, they decided to help shed some light on the ongoing issue.

Communication Studies majors Goh Chiew Tong, Jade Han Hui Jing and Clarissa Sih are working together on a documentary named Peumulia Jamee, which means "Honouring your Guests" in Acehnese, for their final-year project.

"When we read about the 'human ping pong' that went on between some of the South-East Asian countries, and how Aceh was an exception when its fishermen immediately saved the Rohingya that were stranded at sea, we felt that that was a story worth telling," said Ms Goh, the documentary's director.

The trio, who are funding the documentary themselves and via a crowdfunding campaign, have spent time in Aceh meeting with both the local Acehnese and the Rohingya refugees to better understand the situation.

They found that the Acehnese welcomed the Rohingya refugees into their country, even putting themselves at risk to ensure their guests would be safe.

"Their main priority was to rescue them from their boats, and they did so without knowing where the refugees came from, if they were Christian, Buddhist, Muslim; or even if they carried any diseases or weapons with them. They just wanted to save the refugees and bring them to shore. Once they brought them to shore, they offered them food and drink, this despite themselves having so little," said Ms Sih, the project's director of photography.

Willy, a cook, serves lunch to Rohingya children at the Lhok Bani refugee camp in Langsa, Aceh. Together with other Acehnese volunteers at the camp, he provides three meals a day for the Rohingya living at the camp. (Photo: Goh Chiew Tong)

When they arrived, the Rohingya refugees were severely malnourished and dehydrated after being on the smuggler boats for at least three months, surviving on half a glass of water and a handful of rice a day, said Ms Goh.

"According to the Acehnese who were involved in the rescue process, when the Rohingya first landed, their hair were long, their bodies were literally skin and bones, and many of them were very ill. The Acehnese quickly gathered water and snacks from their homes, neighbours and shops to feed the Rohingya," she added.

The trio said the refugees were visibly grateful, especially after being persecuted for their faith and after their ordeal in getting to dry land.

"Some had seen their fellow passengers die on the journey, and were on the brink of giving up hope when the Acehnese rescued them," said Ms Han.


The relationship between the Acehnese and the refugees however, is not as straightforward as one may think. Many of them hope to move on to Malaysia to reunite with their families or to seek work, despite their gratitude towards the Acehnese, said Ms Han.

"There were several refugees who were very grateful for what Aceh has provided them with, but the desire to work and to reunite with their families clearly still exist," said Ms Goh.

She added that she met a few Rohingya refugees who were very vocal about their unhappiness while in Indonesia, as they are unable to find employment due to their status as asylum-seekers by the UNHCR.

"Many of them complained openly that all they do in camps is to sleep and eat and idle," Ms Goh said.

Minara, a Rohingya, giggles in delight as she shows off the drawings displayed in her brightly decorated room at the Blang Adoe refugee camp in North Aceh. Minara lives in the camp with her parents, and loves drawing and colouring. (Photo: Jade Han)

The Rohingya are also only allowed to stay in Aceh until May 2016, exactly a year from when they arrived. Hence, some of them believe it may be better to leave sooner rather than later.

"The unfortunate thing is that many of them know the dangers that exist in escaping — falling into the traps of illegal smuggling networks, slavery, women being sold into prostitution — but they would rather risk their lives and get a shot of employment in Malaysia, than leave their families to starve in Myanmar," Ms Goh said.

However, there are those who remain thankful to the Acehnese and their generosity. Ms Goh recalled one particular refugee who called his friends who escaped to Malaysia "fools", and those who made the escape "have no memory of what the Acehnese did for them".

"You could really see his gratitude and how he has made Aceh his home," Ms Goh said.


Ms Goh said the Acehnese take the spirit of "Peumulia Jamee" to heart – to treat their guests well and not expect anything in return.

"I was curious if the Acehnese felt as though they were not appreciated - the Rohingya have been given a new life, a safe shelter where food and water is provided, and they can even openly practice their Muslim faith," Ms Goh said.

NTU students Goh Chiew Tong and Clarissa Sih pose for a photograph by a Rohingya boy. (Photo: Teo Aileen)

"The Acehnese would tell me that the spirit of 'Peumulia Jamee' is to welcome your guests and not expect anything in return. One of them used the analogy of an injured bird - when you find its broken wing, you mend it. But when it heals, the bird would of course, fly away. It will move on and your job was to simply provide for it when it most needed it, the Acehnese told me," Ms Goh added.

The three women spearheading the project hope that it will help many understand what is known to be a complicated issue. Prior to taking it on, they admitted to not knowing much about the refugee crisis.

"Many of us in Singapore know little or nothing about something that is happening so close to our shores. We as Singaporeans are very protected, and we need to step out of our very comfortable shells and understand what's going on around us and there are segments in the region that desperately need our help," said Ms Sih. "This issue spans across various countries in the region, and we all need to work together to solve it. But first, we need to educate people and let them know that there is this issue happening."

Beyond the 24-minute documentary, which is still in its production phase, Ms Goh said the group hopes it will create a movement across South-East Asia.

"It is our ultimate wish that (people around South-East Asia) will take concrete action in providing aid for the Rohingya Muslims, who are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world," she said.

Friday 15 January 2016

In Myanmar, a Wife’s Wrenching Decision

Source nytimes, 14 Jan
Jano BegumCredit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times

SITTWE, Myanmar — How much should you sacrifice to save your husband's life?

And how much hardship do you inflict on your son to rescue your husband?

Those are the questions Jano Begum faced. Jano, 22, and her husband, Robi Alom, 30, are among the more than one million Muslims who belong to the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, subjected to an ethnic cleansing that a Yale study suggests may amount to genocide.

I've written several times over the years about the brutalization of the Rohingya, but I know that for some readers it seems obscure and remote. Why worry about a distant people when there are so many crises in our own backyard? But put yourself in Jano's situation, as she sits in a hut in a concentration camp here, and think how far you would go to save your spouse.

Jano, Robi and other Rohingya have been confined since 2012 to concentration camps or isolated villages, stripped of citizenship and denied education, jobs and adequate food and health care. The conditions are calculated to induce despair. Sure enough, Robi proposed to his family that he join the wave of Rohingya boat people fleeing to Malaysia.

"I wouldn't let him go," Jano recalled. "We were arguing. He said, 'Even if I die in the ocean, it's better than being here.'"

Then one evening in October 2014 Robi disappeared. A friend passed a message to Jano: He had hopped on a human trafficker's boat. He hadn't dared to say goodbye for fear that Jano would stop him.

Jano was wounded and angry, but she also understood. "Here we live in something like a prison," she said. "No jobs. No nothing. So that's why he left."

The Rohingya feel abandoned. The United Nations system, with the exception of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has downplayed the problem. Western embassies and governments have been too complacent. And Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose party just won elections in Myanmar, has been silent.

In the same camp where I spoke to Jano I also met Arafa Begum, a 27-year-old widow who arranged with human traffickers last year to travel with her five children on a different ship to Malaysia. Arafa knew that she was at risk of being sold to a brothel, along with her daughters. But, not knowing how her children could survive if she stayed in Myanmar, she boarded a human trafficker's ship in July. "There was almost no food or water," she remembered — and conditions were hellish in the hold.

The ship sailed for 50 days, trying to sneak past the Thai Navy, but finally gave up. Arafa and her children are now back in the concentration camp, but she's thinking of trying again.

As for Robi, two and a half months after he disappeared, Jano received a message from a human trafficker in Thailand. He was holding her husband, and he demanded $1,200 for her husband's life.

Jano sold belongings, borrowed from relatives and pawned her food ration card, managing to raise $500 and transfer it to the traffickers' bank account. In phone calls, the traffickers pressed for more money. Sometimes they put Robi on the line and beat him with sticks, so the family could hear his screams.

But Jano told them she had nothing left. She didn't quite tell me so, but she hinted that perhaps she could have raised a little bit more, but feared that their 5-year-old son, Muhammad — already hungry — would starve. I got the sense that she also thought the traffickers would capitulate and eventually release Robi.

If that's what she thought, she miscalculated. She received a final call from the traffickers: Robi had died in the jungle.

"I didn't raise the money, so they killed him," Jano told me. After a long, aching pause, she added: "I blame myself. I didn't save my husband."

It's not clear what happened. Maybe the traffickers beat Robi to death or killed him to sell his kidneys. Perhaps he died of malaria. Or perhaps they sold him to a Thai fishing boat on which he is enslaved.

Jano hasn't told Muhammad that his father may be dead. The boy is losing weight, from either worry or malnutrition. The family owes $200 to get back its ration card, so food is scarcer than ever. Jano washes clothes for neighbors, earning 20 cents a day to eke out an existence. (A human rights group called Fortify Rights is trying to help her.)

Multiply Jano's tragedy by a million and you get the tapestry of the Rohingya suffering today. The horror arises not just from the savagery of human traffickers, but also from a government's systematic effort to destroy a particular ethnic group, one met by global indifference.

Genocide? I don't know. A stain on our collective humanity? Absolutely.

Monday 11 January 2016

Myanmar’s Peace Prize Winner and Crimes Against Humanity

Source nytimes, 9 Jan
Nicholas KristofJAN. 9, 2016

SITTWE, Myanmar — SOON the world will witness a remarkable sight: a beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner presiding over 21st-century concentration camps.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world's genuine heroes, won democracy for her country, culminating in historic elections in November that her party won in a landslide. As winner, Aung San Suu Kyi is also inheriting the worst ethnic cleansing you've never heard of, Myanmar's destruction of a Muslim minority called the Rohingya.

A recent Yale study suggested that the abuse of the more than one million Rohingya may amount to genocide; at the least, a confidential United Nations report to the Security Council says it may constitute "crimes against humanity under international criminal law."

Yet Aung San Suu Kyi seems to plan to continue this Myanmar version of apartheid. She is now a politician, and oppressing a minority like the Rohingya is popular with mostly Buddhist voters.

Another Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Obama, who has tremendous influence on Myanmar (and who has visited twice since his re-election in 2012), isn't showing much interest, either. Obama and Hillary Clinton helped lure Myanmar to democracy and a pro-Western orbit — significant achievements — and it might spoil the parade to fuss too much over 67 quasi-concentration camps in which many Rohingya are confined.

Children near their homes in one of the concentration camps where Myanmar has locked away a Muslim minority called the Rohingya.Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

What all this means in practical terms is that Muhammad Karim is dead at 14.

Muhammad lived in a giant concentration camp with tens of thousands of Rohingya. The government has taken away citizenship and statehood from the Rohingya over the years, and they are deprived of free movement. Muhammad wanted to sneak away by boat, paying human traffickers to join a tide of desperate Rohingya boat people seeking passage to Malaysia. "We wouldn't let him, because it was too dangerous," said his mother, Sara Hatu.

Then Muhammad suffered a scratch on his heel. Nobody thought much about it, but soon he had trouble opening his jaw.

He apparently had caught tetanus. Like most of the children in the concentration camp, he wasn't able to get vaccinations, including a simple tetanus shot.

After he got sick, the local medical assistants and the on-and-off clinic couldn't help him. Finally his mother got special permission for him to leave the camp to be hospitalized, but by then it was too late. "After two days, he came back as a corpse," his mother said.

A hundred feet from his hut, another family is also mourning. Bildar Begum, a 20-year-old woman, contracted hepatitis A, according to neighbors. Hepatitis A is normally not life-threatening, but she, too, couldn't get the medical help she needed, and so she died late last year, leaving a 2-year-old son, Hirol.

"If she was not Rohingya, she would surely still be alive, I can say that 100 percent," said Enus Monir, a community leader.

And now Hirol is starving: At 28 months, he weighs just 19 pounds. On the World Health Organization weight-to-age sheets, he is off the charts. The minimum on the charts is the third percentile, and Hirol is far below that.

Some of the families in the camp have substantial savings in the banks in Sittwe a few miles away. But because they have been locked up since 2012, they can't access their own bank accounts to feed their families.

Hirol is 28 months old and just 19 pounds. His mother died after she contracted hepatitis A in the camp. It is not normally life-threatening, but she couldn't get medical care.Credit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times

The global response has been pathetic. Partly that's because Myanmar makes it difficult for aid groups and journalists to see the Rohingya, so that they are largely invisible.

The United Nations has been dysfunctional in Myanmar. Another internal U.N. document shared with me (both provided by a critic of U.N. passivity on the issue) warns that U.N. staff members in Myanmar are feuding with one another and it raises "the question of possible complicity of the U.N. in potential crimes against humanity."

Bravo to advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and United to End Genocide that have spotlighted the continuing brutality against the Rohingya. Kudos to humanitarian groups that ease the suffering where the government allows them to: On one large island that I reached by boat, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children are providing lifelines of health care and education.

Yet aid groups have been barred from many areas, and the systematic destruction of the Rohingya remains one of the 21st century's most neglected human rights catastrophes.

The Myanmar government is not only oppressing individuals; it is also trying to eradicate the Rohingya people as an ethnic group, by claiming that it does not exist. The authorities don't use the word Rohingya and claim that these are just illegal immigrants from Bangladesh (this is preposterous; historical documents refer to the Rohingya). In November, the government arrested five men simply for printing a 2016 calendar making references to the Rohingya as an ethnic group.

Aung San Suu Kyi avoids even saying "Rohingya." The United States Embassy in Myanmar likewise seems to sidestep the word in its official statements, a cringeworthy capitulation.

"The Obama administration definitely could be doing a lot more," said Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights, a human rights group focused on Myanmar. That includes backing an international investigation and pushing Myanmar publicly and privately to take steps to restore citizenship and free movement to the Rohingya, as well as assuring that aid groups are allowed to help them. Other politicians have also been mostly quiet; the issue has barely surfaced at all on the U.S. presidential campaign trail.

An enormous amount has gone right in Myanmar in recent years, especially the rise of democracy. But that same rise of democracy has also empowered racist and xenophobic demagoguery, making the problems of the Rohingya harder to solve. In the recent Myanmar elections, Aung San Suu Kyi's party refused to nominate a single Muslim candidate.

Aung San Suu Kyi is regarded by many Burmese as too conciliatory toward the Rohingya, because she remains silent rather than denouncing them at every turn. But for those of us who have deeply admired her for years, her willingness to sacrifice principle for political expedience is wrenching to watch.

Defenders of Myanmar and of Aung San Suu Kyi note that the country has many problems; they see the Rohingya as one misfortune in a nation with a vast swath of misfortunes. The priorities, as they see them, are economic development, democracy and an end to the country's many local conflicts, and they protest that it's myopic to focus on the problems of one ethnic group in a nation so full of challenges.

Yet to me, there is something particularly horrifying about a government deliberately targeting an ethnic group for destruction, locking its members in concentration camps and denying them livelihood, education and health care. When kids are dying in concentration camps, after being confined there because of their ethnicity, that's not just one more problem of global poverty. It's a crime against humanity, and addressing it is the responsibility of all humanity.


Thursday 7 January 2016

The Electoral Aftermath in Rakhine State

Source HRW, 6 Jan
David Scott Mathieson

David Scott Mathieson

Senior Researcher, Asia DivisionDSMathiesonHRW

When U Aye Maung, leader of the Arakan National Party (ANP), arrived in Sittwe recently, he was greeted with a drum band and a crowd of supporters. But the relatively muted reception reflected the mixed electoral outcome in Rakhine State.

The ANP met expectations by winning a raft of state and national seats – but U Aye Maung himself did not win one. As a result, the ANP is a divided political force as it prepares to join the parliament in which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's victorious National League for Democracy will have the lion's share of seats. The lingering question is how this new electoral reality will impact the long-standing ethnic, religious and economic issues that have kept Rakhine State riven by conflict and effectively segregated since 2012.

The election results may appear to be in the ANP's favour: In Rakhine they won 12 out of 17 national lower house seats, and 10 of 12 national upper house seats. But at the state level their 23 seats fell short of an outright majority, with nine going to the NLD, three to the military-supported Union Solidarity and Development Party and 12 handed over as unelected military seats.

But the ANP's state-wide victories pale in comparison to the NLD's national landslide and overwhelming mandate for Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi. In a visit to the ANP offices in Sittwe in mid-September, I learned from senior party leaders that their strategy was to defeat the USDP and the NLD to ensure a majority of state and national seats, and secure their claim to have an ethnic Rakhine as the state's chief minister. Under the 2008 constitution, the powerful state-level position is selected by and reports to the president.

In a pre-election interview, U Aye Maung repeated his fear-mongering rhetoric, raising the spectre of a Muslim takeover and ethnic Bamar economic plunder to justify greater local Rakhine rule: "If the Union government and [chief] minister are from the NLD there won't be any chance to defend [ourselves]. They will start measuring [everything] using a human rights yardstick, as per their party policy. That's why we [Rakhine] don't have any choices. We need a government that sees [things] the same way. Otherwise, we will disappear."

It is not just long-standing Rakhine grievances over Bamar rule that will test this relationship. Post-election stability will also be tested by the state and national government's treatment of an estimated 1.2 million ethnic Muslims, most of whom call themselves Rohingya and are officially defined as Bengalis. Since the violence of 2012 between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims displaced over 140,000 people and entrenched the segregation of the Rohingya community, there has been renewed persecution of the largely stateless minority, including the loss of partial citizenship rights when temporary ID cards were revoked, and then the stripping of their voting rights, which had been granted in the 2008 referendum on the constitution and the 2010 elections. This disenfranchisement counted high among the democratic deficiencies of the otherwise procedurally smooth and violence-free 2015 polls.

Amid rising anti-Muslim sentiment fuelled by ultra-nationalist monks since 2013, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was caught in a bind between growing international calls for her to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya, and domestic fears that any voicing of support for them, or Muslims in general, would diminish her domestic electoral appeal. Her response to the persecution has been largely one of silence.

During the May-June 2015 boat crisis, which saw thousands of desperate migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh cast adrift and denied entry to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, the NLD's delayed statement acknowledged that the flight was due in part to the 2012 violence, and that resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was necessary. The NLD also stated that the government needed to "address the issue of citizenship fairly, transparently, and as quickly as possible". But this is something the government has manifestly failed to do.

At her press conference days ahead of the November 8 polls, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said about the situation in Rakhine State, "I think it's very important that we should not exaggerate the problems in this country … I would promise everybody who is living in this country proper protection in accordance with the law and in accordance with the norms of human rights." But in response to a pointed question on amending the 1982 Citizenship Law, which has been used to deprive Rohingya of full citizenship, she ducked the question by saying that repealing any law was up to parliament.

For over two years, the government has been toying with a so-called "Rakhine Action Plan", which promises to tackle citizenship, displacement, economic unfairness and security, but in draft form was a blueprint for permanent segregation and did not ensure that the Rohingya would be eligible for citizenship. Tellingly, the plan also failed to address substantive rights issues or the need for accountability for the 2012 violence. The plan has now languished, and many observers suspect it has been shelved in response to more coordination with the United Nations, international donors and a more amenable state government under the former chief minister, U Maung Maung Ohn, who contested and won the state seat of Ann township and has privately expressed a desire to be chief minister again.

The improved, if still limited, cooperation between local government officials and foreign aid workers, which has resulted in small-scale IDP "resettlement" in parts of Rakhine State in 2015, has not yet seriously addressed the deep divisions of its communities, especially in the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, where an urban majority of Muslims belies the stark rural segregation and overt security presence. These are areas from where many Rohingya have fled. Yet recent research indicates there may be some increased willingness of communities in some rural areas, away from the diatribes heard in Sittwe, to cooperate in development and live together.

There are immense challenges for the NLD, the ANP and all communities in Rakhine State to turn away from years of violence and fear. But whatever government takes power in Sittwe should start by scrapping discriminatory laws, removing restrictions on freedoms of movement, enabling access to healthcare and education to all who need it, and protecting religious freedoms, which includes stopping public rhetoric of racist vilification that sparks violence. How the ANP responds to these opportunities and challenges will be a key determining factor for the future of their own community and interests as well as of the Rohingya.

David Scott Mathieson is a senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.