Myanmar’s government has come under fire since 2017 for what is being described as the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis” according to the United Nations (UN) (BBC). This claim from the UN comes after over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh in order to avoid military violence and ongoing persecution (BBC).
The Rohingya are the largest Muslim population in Myanmar, inhabiting the Rakhine state in the southwest corner of the country (BBC). With a population slightly above 1 million, they are one of the many ethnic minorities in the predominantly Buddhist nation (BBC). The Rohingya are believed to be the descendants of Arab traders coming from Bangladesh and even have their own language (BBC). However, in August 2017, militants of the minority group launched attacks on numerous police posts, prompting a brutal military response, in which over 6,000 Rohingya were immediately killed (BBC). Military violence has since continued, although the Myanmar government claims that all operations were stopped (BBC). This persecution has prompted mass fleeing due to the dangerous conditions of the Rakhine state, where inhabitants face atrocities such as ongoing violence, rape, and their properties being burned to the ground (BBC). Currently, about 600,000 Rohingya remain in the state unable to freely move or relocate, while being subject to horrific conditions including inadequate access to food, medical care and other crucial elements of livelihood (HRW).
While the violence towards Rohingya gravely escalated in 2017, the minority group has long faced descrimination by the government of Myanmar. Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya were not recognized as citizens of the country, while over 135 other ethnic groups were granted citizenship (HRW). As of 2014, they were excluded from the census and labeled as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh (BBC). This issue of citizenship makes it impossible for Rohingya to obtain national verification cards from the government, which are mandated for all traveling across the country (Washington). Being unable to register with the government also impedes families from receiving food aid, a necessity for survival (Washington). Recently, the Myanmar government has begun a household-counting survey of all Rohingya villages, an exercise that is described as “an effort to erase the Rohingya from administrative records and make their return less possible” by the UN’s independent investigator, Yanghee Lee (Washington).
For those in Bangladesh, repatriation has become a source of great fear, with refugees having no desire to return to their homes (Guardian). Rohingya refugees demand guaranteed citizenship and the acknowledgement of their ethnic group, as well as all civil liberties associated with citizen status, before considering a return (Guardian). Unfortunately, the government still stands behind its military attacks and claims that they were not a human rights violation (Washington). The international community is continuing to seek justice for these heinous attacks on innocent families, with Lee advocating for the imposition of sanctions on companies currently owned by the Myanmar military and the sentencing of senior military commanders involved (Washington).
By raising awareness of this issue and involving the international community, organizations such as the UN can attempt to pose sanctions on Myanmar’s government or add pressure in an effort to convince the country’s leaders to withdraw all military opposition in the Rakhine state. Additionally, groups protesting against Myanmar’s lack of action to stop the violence and failure to recognize military faults has gained wide media coverage, serving as a legitimacy check for the country’s government.
“Myanmar Rohingya: What You Need to Know about the Crisis.” BBC News, BBC, 24 Apr. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41566561.
Ellis-Petersen, Hannah, and Shaikh Azizur Rahman. “Rohingya Refugees Refuse to Return to Myanmar without Rights Guarantee.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Aug. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/21/not-without-our-rights-rohingya-refugees-refuse-to-return-to-myanmar.
“Myanmar: Rohingya Jailed for Traveling.” Human Rights Watch, 9 Oct. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/08/myanmar-rohingya-jailed-traveling.
Lederer | AP, Edith M. “UN Investigator: Myanmar Is Not Safe for Rohingyas to Return.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Oct. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/un-investigator-myanmar-is-not-safe-for-rohingyas-to-return/2019/10/04/ba7470a4-e6da-11e9-b0a6-3d03721b85ef_story.html.