For almost a decade, the Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have suffered social discrimination and organised attacks; in recent times with the blessings and complicity of the Myanmar army. The Myanmar government does not even recognise the name ‘Rohingya’ . Human Rights Watch, amongst others, has been reporting since April 2013 how radical Buddhist monks  began a wave of violence against Muslims. Rohingyas have been terrorised and labelled as illegal Bengali immigrants. Many fled their homes and now there are thousands living in ramshackle temporary huts.
In May 2015 Rohingya refugees tried to reach Malaysia, the deputy Home Minister, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, insisted that they stay away and “go back to their own country” . Bangladesh has already sealed its borders with Myanmar; even then several thousand Rohingyas have taken refuge in the bordering villages. In a 2012 interview, the PM of Bangladesh, Hasina Wajed, stated that it is not her country’s responsibility to help all of the refugees. More recently, the Foreign Minister, Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, said on the 5th December 2016: “We are trying to resolve the matter through different channels by engaging international organisations”  In other words, it is not seen as a Bangladeshi issue, but ‘someone else’s burden’.
With the neighbouring Muslim countries sealing the plight of the Rohingya Muslim refugees at the brutal hands of the Burmese army, the US administration has further added to their misery with it’s increasing ties with the Myanmar Junta leading to the lifting of sanctions in October this year. The US has praised the country for the progress it had made with only token criticism for the many arrested and imprisoned by the regime. And despite the wealth of evidence in recent months of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Muslims, with thousands killed, the US has given tacit acceptance of the treatment of the Rohingya, and their support to Aung San Suu Kyi.
Refugees – a global perspective
The issue of refugees is not limited to any one particular country or region, but is a global problem. Whilst it is beyond the remit of this article to go into the causes of why so many people have become refugees, the statistics on the number of refugees currently is staggering;
65 million globally displaced persons, 21m outside of their country, 34,000 people become refugees every day and 17 years the typical wait in a refugee camp. Fifty-four percent of the world’s refugees come from three countries: Syria (4.9m), Afghanistan (2.7m) and Somalia(1.1m). By the end of 2015 Syria was the largest source country of refugees and asylum-seekers.
The figures do not begin to address the physical and emotional toll upon these people as they are forced to flee their homes, families, and land with only that what they can take with them often accompanied by children.
The World has failed refugees
The response of the United Nations in tackling the plight of refugees across the globe has been a total failure. As far back as 1951, with its ‘Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees’, it has proved to be no more than a glorified talking shop; lofty rhetoric and pledges but with no actual mechanism to ensure countries and governments accept refugees or even share the costs associated with the millions displaced.
The uselessness of the UN is at such a low point that even the perpetrators of the violence against the Rohingya have had no qualms in asking it to look into matters knowing that nothing meaningful will come of it. At the request of Aung San Suu Kyi, Kofi Annan, the UN ex-Secretary-General, is to chair an advisory commission on Rakhine State, regarding the atrocities against the Rohingyas tasked with ending violence and to “promote peace”.
At the last UN summit on refugees, in September 2016, the UN High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, was forced to concede:
“The bitter truth is, this summit was called because we have been largely failing. Failing the long-suffering people of Syria……… Failing others in now chronic conflict zones, for the same reason. Failing millions of migrants who deserve far more than lives marked by cradle-to-grave indignity and desperation“
True to form, this last summit also declared a new intent for national states to negotiate by 2018 new methods on treatment of refugees and for safe and orderly transfer of migrants. It too will fail because as with all previous UN declarations on refugees they remain unbinding on individual governments to adopt and hence can be easily disregarded if not deemed in the national interest.
Abandoning commitments to refugees has been tragically seen in Europe over the past few years in its response to the thousands displaced from Syria; European states have closed borders, held refugees in detention camps, forcibly split up families, and humiliated the most oppressed by treating them as criminals with fingerprinting and identity tags.
The western world’s mistreatment and abuse of refugees is not a new phenomena. The last 20 years has seen multiple reports showing how industrialised states have introduced a barrage of restrictive policies and practices targeting asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. Even before Brexit and Donald Trump made it fashionable, negative and inaccurate portrayals in the media and the inflammatory, xenophobic rhetoric of politicians and public officials have contributed to a climate of hostility towards these groups. There has been an alarming rise in violence against asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in many countries so the West have lost all credibility with both their values and behaviour towards those most in need.
Refugees – left to charities and Aid organisations
The failure of international bodies and national states in handling the global refugee epidemic has meant a greater role for non governmental organisations (NGO’s) and Aid groups. However, charity on it’s own cannot solve the issue of refugees and it at best a temporary fix to alleviate some of the pain.
Despite their mostly good intentions NGOs and charities are very limited in finance, scope and capability in trying to help refugees. It is known that NGOs  and charities  can be used as government-fronts which in turn hinders their ability to help. Moreover, they are also affected by the political climate in which they operate and the relationships with and between national states; if a government imposes sanctions or restricts the movements of groups and organisations, NGOs and charities are scuppered in their efforts; if there are militarised zones or physical barriers that get in the way of humanitarian work, again, they will be ineffective with the added risk another state can distribute aid and relocate civilians for political or propaganda purposes.
Capitalism can’t help the refugees
The sheer scale of the refugee crisis worldwide shows that Capitalism and the Capitalistic viewpoint cannot solve the plight of refugees. A world of nation states, driven by self interest and material gain will not seriously resolve the misery of people forced to flee their homes in search of refuge. Any aid given, financial or otherwise, often has strings attached and ulterior motives. On the home front, Politicians and Governments have to explain the return-on-investment to the public as to why taxpayers are funding foreigners at the expense of domestic issues. International bodies are paralysed due to the dominance of the major powers dictating the agenda to suit their needs. It’s time for another look at how to solve the plight of refugees.
Islam – only a State can help the refugees
The Islamic concept of aid and helping those in need is in total contrast to Capitalism; it puts humans before profit and is truly altruistic. A Khilafah State on the world arena cannot, and would not sit back and watch refugees being pushed from pillar to post.
There are many examples from the history of the Khilafah where the Islamic State provided sanctuary for refugees:
- Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the Khaleefah, Bayazid II, ordered a decree to accept them for refuge in the Uthmani Khilafah (Ottoman Empire), even sending ships to Spain to collect them. 250,000 refugees arrived settling mainly in Istanbul and Salonika
- In the 1570’s, Unitarian Christians (who denied the Trinity) fled persecution from their Christian brethren and were given sanctuary in the Islamic lands
- After the Russian invasion of Crimea in 1784 and the Caucasus in 1864, Muslims living in these regions came to Anatolia either by ship or land routes. They were settled in available villages and towns
- In the 18th century, Cossack Russians fled to the Uthmani State due to persecution at the hands of the Orthodox Church residing in the city of Balikesir
- Up to 200,000 Tsarist Russians were taken by ship to Istanbul between 1917-21, having opposed the Bolshevik revolution and fleeing the subsequent civil war; they were first settled in refugee camps before being transferred to permanent houses and buildings
- The Historian Stanford Shaw wrote in Jews, Turks, and Ottomans: Fifteenth through Twentieth Century, “The Ottoman Empire had for centuries provided a safe haven for Jewish refugees from Europe. The large-scale migrations of Jews from Spain, Portugal, and other European countries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are well known …….. However, later Jewish population movements to the Ottoman Empire are less well known. Still, over the years, many European Jews individually or in small groups continued to settle in Ottoman dominions for political, economic, or religious reasons. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the influx of Jewish refugees into the shrinking Ottoman lands rose again. ”
The generosity of the Uthmani Khilafah at the time of the Great Famine of Ireland in 1845 has become well documented . In helping others the Khaleefah, Abdul Majid 1, outlined the Islamic response with his words;
“I am compelled by my religion to observe the laws of hospitality”
Muslims already have a long established concept of selfless charity without any material gain (sadaqah). What is needed for our present time is for this mentality to be elevated and applied on a political, state level so that the millions of refugees in the world today can be cared for and allowed to settle in lands for their protection. In doing so, the Ummah is not only doing her duty to the rest of mankind but also showing the world the justice of Islam.