Amnesty International has reported that Myanmar’s military is constructing military bases where Rohingya homes and mosques used to stand, relying on satellite imagery to point out the rapid increase of the military infrastructure in Rakhine state.
Sputnik discussed this with Dr. Jason von Meding, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle, Australia who has been busy filming DEVIATE, a documentary which tells the stories of marginalized people.
Sputnik: With the way things have been developing in Myanmar, how likely is the prospect of Rohingya refugees returning to Rakhine?
Dr. Jason von Meding: The removal of Rohingya from this region has been driven by forces beyond religion or ethnic tension; while you do have this agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar to begin repatriation of the displaced people, it's quite likely that refugees will return at some stage, but what will the conditions be to which they return? The land has really been stolen from them, we've seen evidence they may be forced to move back into conditions which are akin to open-air prisons, and they'll certainly have a lot less autonomy if they do end up moving back to Rakhine state.
Sputnik: We've heard a lot about nationalism, ethnic purges regarding the Rohingya, government involvement, military involvement, but you've mentioned corporate interests, and that's something we don't hear a lot about in the mainstream media, can you elaborate on that?
Dr. Jason von Meding: It's been the tactic of the military for several decades in Myanmar and I think the reason we don't hear about this is that most of the governments that are criticizing human rights abuses — which is pretty easy for them to do without really getting to the root causes — most of them are not really prepared to deal with these root causes, which have to do with corporate interests. The Myanmar military has been targeting small builders in Myanmar for decades to grab their land, and this has led to many conflicts; not just with the Rohingya but many other groups. I think the real problem is that many of the governments that are criticising the human rights abuses would like the abuses to cease but they are actually implicated in other ways in this situation through arms deals, through natural resource exploitation, and through corporate interests such as big agrobusiness.
Dr. Jason von Meding: My team are doing some ongoing work, ongoing research to look at the vulnerability of the Rohingya, who have been displaced into Bangladesh. We were working in this area before the current wave of displacement, looking at vulnerability in Rakhine. People that have moved across the border have moved into a more vulnerable situation, and some of the solutions that have been proposed such as moving the refugees offshore onto an island I think are really not solutions at all, they would force people into further vulnerability. The Rohingya want to live on their own land, although the evidence that is emerging from this Amnesty report is really a great concern. A lot of their history and villages have completely been bulldozed to wipe out any evidence of their ownership and their history there, and that's really a great concern. We need a safe return to their land, and we also need an oversight of this return so they don't end up living under constant surveillance and repression. My view on this is that we need to find a way to put more pressure on the Myanmar government and military to roll back some of these initiatives they've been starting to undertake and to gain assurances that they will allow a safe return and allow people to go back to their way of life.
Sputnik: What kind of solution do you see possible? It would be great of course if the corporations and government interests were addressed and were called out by the international community as far as to why you are you going to train the military when it's the military that has been perpetrating a lot of these horrific acts.
Dr. Jason von Meding: What is clear is that the military are connected with these corporate interests and with economic interests in the region, and you have to assume that there's many people who have economic interests in this military repression. So I think the way to tackle this is to target the economic angle and to ensure that the kind of economic development that they wish to happen there is not allowed to continue until safeguards are put in place on the lives and livelihoods, and rights of the Rohingya.
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