Tula Toli Phenomena

December 8, 2017


By M Khalid Shaikh

How would you feel if tomorrow you will wake up to a large disaster, a war, or to an act of persecution which leaves you no choice but to migrate from your country, would it be acceptable to you? Would you still plan your journey with the same enthusiasm as if you have planned the journey with your own free will? Just imagine a few more minutes and ask yourself how will you feel safe again anywhere else when you were not even safe in your own country where you were born and have spent the best days of your life? Those Rohingya Muslims that were forced to flee and migrate from their homeland can tell you the real feeling of having to flee from their homes; people like these Rohingya Muslims can tell you how does one feel living life as a refugee.

UNHCR defines a refugee as someone “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The recent Tula Toli massacre forced thousands of citizens of Myanmar to flee to Bangladesh as refugees; up until that incident, they were perhaps the only Rohingya Muslims that were still living in Myanmar. The grave crimes against humanity in Tula Tuli too were not able to shake the conscience of the sound asleep world. Had it happened to whites or to the Jews or Christians in any part of the rest of the world, the newspapers would have been filled with heroic stories and stories of how people showed compassion to the refugees. However the Tula Toli massacre was subjected to the Muslims and the incident is no different from other such massacres that had targeted the Muslims such as Srebrenica massacre, the blood bath in Indian held Kashmir, massacre of Hui Muslims in Japan, the on-going and past massacres of Muslims under the tenure of Narendra Modi, the barbaric killings of Syrian Muslims, the Palestinian killings etc.

BBC Insight program on Tula Toli massacre reveals that the tactic that was used in this incident was to first assure the safety to the residents of Tula Tuli of their protection in-written by the government representative and then later exposing their location to the barbaric killers; incidentally this tactic is not used for the first time. Srebrenica massacre too seems to be similar to this incident when the Serb neighbors of the Muslim families assured them that they shall be protected against the aggressors however later their positions were revealed to the Serbian butcher Ratko Mladić. Even during the Gujrat riots, Muslim families were assured that they will be protected against the Hindu extremists, but when the Hindu extremist did entered the various Muslim localities, the Hindu neighbors as well as the police didn’t stopped them from killing the Muslims. One may conclude that the Tula Toli incident is a phenomena that has occurred in the past and will be repeated in the future.

According to the 2003 statistics provided by UNHCR, until 2003 as many as 20 million people were forced to migrate at the global level. This number must have increased many times since the occurrence of the incidents such as Syrian crises and Rohingya massacre. The refugee crises has created the humanitarian emergencies as well as economic crises. Individuals have the fundamental human right to live free of fear of persecution, yet there are many victims who do not live free of this fear. The migrants or refugees when once arrive in other countries, they are not always welcomed there. This is because of the fear of changes in the value system of that country as well as the fear of losing jobs to these refugees by the local public.

Moreover the safety and security of the refugees is not guaranteed when once they are on the move. Such as the Syrians and Libyans that are still fleeing their homeland and going to Europe or Australia have lost many of their relatives in the process of migration. Who can forget the image of Alan Kurdi in this regard? Yet many other have perished simply whilst marching towards other countries because a lot of them were unable to withstand the hardships of the traveling that happened often on foot and in cramped boats. No book can describe the real horror that the refugees face during the migration although authors such as Mohsin Hamid (Exit West) have tried to do it.

Scholars note that though decline in frequency of international wars has lessened war factor as instigator of refugee flow, however with the mere presence of active foreign troops on one’s soil an individual is more likely to feel threatened. People are also likely to migrate if there is too much corruption in their country because people feel safe when they can share their political views with others without fear of retribution and there is transparency in government affairs. One may conclude that, refugees emerge from not just from the countries under constant crises of extreme nature, but people also migrate from overtly stable countries.

In such refugees coming from apparently stable countries, the fears are about the unstable economic policies, constant uncertainty in terms of future of their investment, the fear of on-coming neo-colonialism, and the fear of exploitation under some imperialist rule which the country itself chose to live under. Due to various reason, it is not possible to mention many other persecuted ethnicities. However their situation is not much different from that of Rohingya, Hui or Srebrenica Muslims. Not acknowledging them doesn’t mean that they are not on the march and leaving the countries of their origin – countries which they call their “home.”

*The writer is an Assistant Professor who tweets at @Prof_MKShaikh.