by Zoya Chishti
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is home to over a hundred different ethnic groups. Myanmar is a Buddhist majority nation, with Buddhists making up 87.9% of the population. The South-eastern Asian nation, that borders India, China, Thailand and Laos, is home to approximately fifty-one million people, including “The world’s most persecuted minority: “The Rohingya”.
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are an ethnic group, a majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived in Myanmar since as early as the 12th century, according to many historians and Rohingya groups. There are 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar, all of whom have been denied citizenship as of 1982 by the government and are not recognized as a part of the 135 ethnic groups that populate Myanmar – effectively rendering them stateless. Almost all of the Rohingya live along the western coast, in the state of Rakhine, and are not allowed to leave without government permission. Rakhine is one of the poorest states in the country with shanty town camps and a lack of basic services and opportunities for the residents.
For more than 100 years, the British ruled over India (1824-1948). During this time, Britain claimed Myanmar as a province of India. There was a mass migration of labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar, which was perceived negatively by the local population. Fast forward to 1982, when the new citizenship law was passed, making it incredibly difficult for the Rohingya to obtain citizenship, their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion and access health services were, and continue to be, restricted. The Rohingya are denied their right to vote, as Rohingya is not a recognised ethnicity under the law, and are also unable to go into professions like medicine, law and running for office.
In Recent Years
Since the 1970’s, the Rohingya have been fleeing the persecution in Burma. The military crackdown in Rakhine since then has seen immense violence, with some refugees reporting rape, torture, arson and murder by Myanmar security forces, causing hundreds and thousands of refugees to flee to neighbouring countries. Ironically enough, the de-facto leader of Myanmar, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, refuses to discuss or condemn the indiscriminate violence against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi and her government do not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group, and consequently blame the violence on so called terrorist groups. A report published by the United Nations in February 2016 stated that government troops “very likely” committed crimes against humanity since renewed military crackdowns began in October 2016. In late September, Aung San Suu Kyi gave a televised address condemning “all human rights violations in Rakhine”, which was greeted with heavy criticism from refugees and activists, and was seen as a feeble attempt to pacify the global public opinion. International aid on the ground has also been restricted by the government, with one Rohingya activist reporting that “the government has even gone so far as to imply the UN and other international aid agencies are helping what the government called “extremist Bengali terrorists”. Stirring up pre-existing allegations puts aid workers at risk of attacks and risks stopping delivery of life-saving aid to vulnerable people, including tens of thousands of children.
The Rohingya have no hope of a brighter future without tremendous international pressure from Governments and activists. However, this is truly impossible until people start to talk about it; the story of the Rohingya is massively under-reported. The Myanmar government restrict access to Rakhine and its people, with some activists reporting that they were only allowed access to government approved Rohingya. Despite the UN establishing an investigation into possible crimes against humanity, no pressure has been put on the military in Myanmar. China and Russia continue to support the Myanmar government, with their latest meeting in September. A current embargo on weapon sales has been in place within the EU and USA, but the continued support and arms sales from other nations around the globe has further enabled the ethnic cleansing of the Myanmar Muslims.
As we go about our daily lives, enjoying the liberties and freedoms we have, the Myanmar military are systematically looting and burning down villages, indiscriminately shooting at men, women, children and the elderly. They are destroying everything, leaving nothing behind for the Rohingya to come back to. The cycle of violence can only be resolved by the international community. Tun Khin, the current president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK has recently and rightly said that, “The only alternative to action is letting us be killed. Letting Rohingya be killed has been the approach of the international community so far. There is no sign of that changing”.
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