In brief: The Rohingya refugee crisis

Refugees. - file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

The Rohingya are an ethnic group, majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar. Currently, the country has about 1.1 million Rohingya who live here.

The Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982 and are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, making them stateless.

Nearly all of the Rohingya in Myanmar live in the western coastal state of Rakhine and are not allowed to leave without government permission. It is one the poorest states in the country with ghetto-like camps and a lack of basic services and opportunities.

Due to ongoing violence and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries either by land or boat over the course of many decades.

Their origins

According to many historians and Rohingya groups, Muslims have lived in Myanmar since as early as the 12th century.

According to Human Rights Watch, during the time of British rule, there was a large migration of Indian and Bangladeshi labourers to Myanmar which at that time was being administered as a province of India.

However, the migration was viewed negatively by the majority of the native population. After independence, Myanmar’s government saw the migration as illegal and refused citizenship to the majority of the Rohingya.

Many Buddhists consider the Rohingya as Bengali, and consider the term Rohingya as a recent invention created for political purposes.

Since the 1970s, a number of crackdowns on the Rohingya in Rakhine State have forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, as well as Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. Refugees have often reported rape, torture, arson and murder by Myanmar security forces.

The latest round of violence stems from an incident in October 2016, when government troops enforced a security crackdown on Rohingya villages in Rakhine State following the killings of nine border police. Government forces denied allegations of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killing, rape and arson.

Myanmar troops have been accused by residents and activists of firing indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya men, women and children. The government, however, has said nearly 100 people were killed after armed men from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched a raid on police outposts in the region.

More than 400,000 people have fled the violence, with thousands trapped in a no-man’s land between the two countries, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

The UN has also said that hundreds of civilians who have tried to enter Bangladesh have been pushed back by patrols. Many have also been detained and forcibly returned to Myanmar.

A displaced people

An estimated 1 million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape persecution since the 1970s.

According to data from the United Nations in May, more than 168,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since 2012.

Following the violence that broke out last year, more than 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from October 2016 to July 2017, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Many Rohingya also risked their lives trying to get to Malaysia by boat across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 112,000 made the dangerous journey.

Prior to the violence that began in August, the UN estimated that there are as many as 420,000 Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Additionally, it said there were around 120,000 internally displaced Rohingya.

Since the violence in Myanmar’s northwest began, more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, UNHCR said. It added that more than 1,000 people, mostly Rohingya, may have been killed in Myanmar.

Bangladesh’s response

There are currently more than half a million Rohingya refugees living in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, many of whom are unregistered. It has been claimed by the refugees that government aid is inadequate, with many saying they have not received any kind of government help.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited a Rohingya refugee camp in September and called on the UN and the international community to pressure Myanmar’s government to allow the return of hundreds of thousands Rohingya refugees.

In late January, the country revived a plan to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island that is prone to flooding and has also been called “uninhabitable” by rights groups.

The UN also called the forced relocation “very complex and controversial”.

The refugees in Bangladesh have many restrictions placed upon them, including being banned from leaving the overcrowded border areas. Police check posts and surveillance have been set up in key transit points from stop Rohingya from travelling to other parts of the country.

Myanmar’s response

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s state chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the de facto leader of Myanmar has come under fire from the international community for refusing to address the plight of the Rohingya.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her government do not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group and have blamed violence in Rakhine, and subsequent military crackdowns, on ‘terrorists’.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate does not control the military but has been criticised for her failure to condemn indiscriminate force used by troops, as well as to stand up for the rights of the more than one million Rohingya in Myanmar.

(source: Al Jazeera)