The Rohingya Muslims
Over the past two weeks (September 2017), 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the Mynamar’s Western Rakhine state to Bangladesh. The UN has described the Rohingya Muslims as “the world’s most persecuted minority”. Below is some background to the crisis.
Who are the Rohingya
The Rohingya are a distinct ethnic group, with their own language and culture, residing in the Mynamar’s Western Rakhine state. The Rohingya are Muslim descendants of Arab traders who arrived in the region in the 15th century and make up a third of the population in Rakhine. They speak a version of Chittagonian, a regional dialect of Bengali. A small percentage of the Rohingya are Hindu.
Myanmar or Burma
Myanmar is better known in the West as Burma. In 1989, the military junta changed the name from Burma to Myanmar, arguing that the name ‘Burma’ was chosen by its former British colonial masters, as well as the fact that the word ‘Myanmar’ better reflected the actual pronunciation of Burmese words. However, both Myanmar/Burma are still used interchangeably.
The persecution of the Rohingya Muslims
Myanmar is a predominately Buddhist country (80% of the population) consisting of 135 different ethnic groups. The government officially recognises all of these groups with the exception of the Rohingya Muslims who have been stripped of their citizenship and rendered stateless. They face severe discrimination in marriage, employment, education, religious choice, the right to have children, and freedom of movement. In addition, they are subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction.
The violence against the Rohingya has all the hallmarks of genocide and it is supported militarily and politically by the Myanmar government. This was stated in September 2017 by UN who described their plight as “the textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The current slaughter of the Rohingya is unfortunately not something new. Since the end of the second world war, the Rohingya Muslims have suffered persecution and violence by the majority Buddhist state. This violence culminated in the late 1970’s causing 200,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh. Another wave of violence in 1991 led another 250,000 to flee. In 1982, the Citizenship law rendered the Rohingya stateless, with birth certificates no longer being issued. In 2014, the government banned the word “Rohingya”.
Where are the Rohingya fleeing to.
Bangladesh hosts the majority of refugees as it is the closest country to Rakhine state. Over 780,000 Rohingya are living in squalid refugee camps there. In the recent wave of violence, Bangladesh has turned back many refugees fleeing the genocide.
Malaysia hosts over 150,000 registered refugees who have no legal status and are unable to work.
Pakistan hosts 350,000 Rohingya refugees many of them fled in the late 1970’s and 80’s.
Saudi Arabia hosts 300,000 Rohingya refugees.
Internally Displaced Persons. Over 100,000 live in internally displaced persons camps within Myanmar, with no freedom of movement or access to food, water, sanitation, healthcare and education. They are forbidden to leave these camps. “The conditions in these camps are dire.
Other countries where Rohingya Muslims have fled to include: India (40,000), Thailand (5,000), Malaysia (150,000) and Indonesia (5,000). India has recently stated its intention to deport the Rohingya Muslims.
The current crisis
In 2016 and 2017, renewed violence against the Rohingya by police, military and Buddhist death squads has led to another wave of Rohingya’s fleeing the country. Many prefer the risk of death on the perilous sea journey on crowded boats, than remaining in Rakhine. The horrific violence includes gang rape of women and young girls, torture, burning alive, systematic burning of entire regions and mass killings including killing children. Human Rights Watch has confirmed satellite imagery which shows over a 100 km stretch of land in Rakhine where massive fires, started by security forces, are blazing. In February 2017, the UN published a report that found that government troops “very likely” committed crimes against humanity.
What’s the expected future for the Rohingya Muslims
Unfortunately, the situation is bleak. The civilian government has given the security services a free reign to continue its policy of genocide. Despite international condemnation of its crimes against humanity, the Myanmar government is receiving strong diplomatic support from India, Russia and China. A report released by the International State Crime Initiative at the Queen Mary University of London states that the Rohingya “face the final stages of genocide”.
How you can help
Most of the refugees from Rakhine are attempting to flee to Bangladesh. Conditions in the makeshift camps in Bangladesh are appalling and aid agencies are warning of an impending full scale humanitarian disaster. The refugees are who survived the journey are suffering malnutrition and disease. Crisis Aid is supplying food and medicine packs to the refugees. Help us to help them.