Understanding the Persecution of the Rohingya

Courtesy of CNN

Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian country, where 11 million Rohingya reside. The Rohingya people are currently known as the world’s “most persecuted minority.” They speak Ruaingga, also known as Rohingya, a dialect that is distinctly different from the others spoken throughout Myanmar, and are Muslim by majority. They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless. This is one of the pivotal factors that has contributed to their current condition.

Originally, the Rohingya were laborers from Bangladesh and India who fled to Myanmar during the more than 100 years of British rule starting in 1824. The Human Rights Watch reports that the government of Myanmar had deemed the migration into the country illegal, and on that basis, citizenship was denied to the Rohingya. Additionally, as usual, the native population did not favor their arrival, resulting in intense resentment and xenophobia targeted at the group.

As a response to violent persecution, xenophobia, and intolerance by the native Myanmar population, nearly one million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring countries either by land or sea since the late 1970s. According to the most recent data available from the UN, more than 168,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since 2012. More than 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from October 2016 to July 2017, as reported by the International Organization for Migration.

Rohingya refugees bear stories of crime, mass murder, and stark breaches of human rights. The de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her government have claimed that reported violence in Rakhine and subsequent military crackdowns were only the result of terrorists in the area. However, the UN published a report that found that government troops “very likely” committed crimes against humanity since renewed military crackdowns began in October 2016.

890,000 Rohingya currently reside in mostly makeshift camps in Bangladesh. The majority are unregistered. Bangladesh has often tried to prevent Rohingya refugees from crossing its border and has deemed them as illegal as well. As a Bengali, I find this hypocritical. The Rohingya trace their roots back to Bangladesh and India. Why are we calling our own people illegal? Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that Bangladesh would offer the refugees temporary shelter and aid, but that Myanmar should soon ‘take their nationals back.’ In November 2017, Pope Francis visited Myanmar, and, while he did not explicitly mention the Rohingya, he said that there must be acceptance and respect for all ethnic groups in the country.

We often forget about the rights of those who are oceans away. We forget that innocent people are being stripped of their safety, murdered, and then ignored. Making a change for the persecuted and disenfranchised Rohingya people begins with awareness, and we cannot let that slip through the cracks. Do not forget about the Rohingya or the dehumanization they face today.


-Syed Hasan