Why the Australian Rohingya community is worried the Myanmar coup will backfire on them

There are fears that it's only a matter of time before the military junta in Myanmar launch another crackdown against the persecuted Rohingya population.

Muslim-majority Rohingya in northern Myanmar have been targeted by Myanmar armed forces and police since 2015.

Muslim-majority Rohingya in northern Myanmar have been targeted by Myanmar armed forces and police since 2015. Source: AAP

Random arrests, imprisonment and even torture felt all too common before Khin Win's family left Myanmar for Australia in 2004. 

Today, he worries the persecution of the Rohingya population could become even worse. 

Following the military coup on 1 February, there have been growing fears amongst the Burmese community both in Myanmar and Australia that persecution against the Rohingya people will escalate.

“I am worried, I have family members living in Burma, they can’t sleep all night, the military occupied the mosques, they occupy schools...Even I can’t sleep here, all night I’m just watching to see what happens, once they take you, you can’t imagine what they’ll do,” Mr Win said.

Security forces killed at least 39 anti-coup protesters in Myanmar on Sunday, marking one of the deadliest days of the coup so far. 

There are fears this widespread violence will soon be shifted to the Rohingya, an ethnic minority that live mostly in the northern regions of Myanmar's Rakhine state. 

More than one million Rohingya were forced to flee military persecution in Myanmar between 2016 and 2017, in what the UN has described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing". 

Mohammed Junaid from the Burmese Rohingya Community organisation in Australia said there were fears the military could use the coup to further persecute the remaining Rohingya population. 

“The community is afraid, eventually whatever is happening in the capital will be shifted to the Rohingya,” he said.

Persecution against the Rohingya people escalated in 1982 when the military junta introduced a law stripping the minority group of their citizenship.

“The policy is based on a view held by the military government, the Rohingya are not citizens of Myanmar, as not being citizens, they don’t have a legitimate place in Myanmar,” Professor Damien Kingsbury from Deakin University said.

Now the military has seized power again, Professor Kingsbury says it’s very likely a crackdown will be launched against the Rohingya community once the protests calm down.

“Those who are still in the country will likely face further persecution by the military because the military policy is still in place,” Mr Kingsbury said.

There are also fears the violence could be much worse this time around.

“The remaining Rohingya in Rakhine state could be eradicated or possibly detained in IDP camps.”

As someone who lived under the military’s oppression for the first 20 years of his life, Mr Win has experienced firsthand the military’s government’s oppressive regime. 

“In 1977, my entire family was arrested, I was very young at the time, they tortured them. I went to visit them, my uncle said all night they don’t only torture us, they keep us in a black room and attack us, he was just crying when describing what they had done.”

Now he hopes the junta’s current crackdown on protestors will encourage the rest of the population to stand with them.

“People can now understand, before people didn’t realise what the military were like but now they’re treating everyone poorly. The reality is the military doesn’t want to give power to anyone, they want to rule the entire country,” Mr Win said.

Rohingya communities both in Myanmar and in Australia have been actively involved in the current protest movement against the military government, but many say this won’t help their cause in the long run.

“I’m more than happy to unite but every time we get involved in an issue related to Burma, it’s us who get affected at the end of the day,” Mr Junaid said.

Mr Junaid says this is because the Burmese population, like the government, have always persecuted the Rohingya community.

“In the long persecution we’ve been facing, it was not primarily under the government, we were persecuted by the public first and secondly by the government…”

“It was not the government that committed genocide it was the public and the government was cooperating,” Mr Junaid said.

With investigations into past abuses by the military already underway by the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, the Rohingya community in Australia is now calling on countries from across the globe to support them.

“Because I suffered in my country, I don’t want to see the same as what I faced happening now in my country in Burma, the dictatorship shall not be in this generation in this new century, no human should be killed as they’re doing now, and we are standing with the people in Burma, we are unified, we must bring down this dictatorship and find a solution to change this nasty regime," Mr Win said.

Published 16 March 2021 at 10:11am
By Massilia Aili
Source: SBS News