The Rohingya Muslims

March 4th, 2014

The Rohingya Muslims

This essay was Highly Commended in the HART 2014 Scholarship Competition:

Burma is a nation split into seven states and seven divisions. Within these states live a variety of ethnic groups which make up the country’s population including Burman, Shan, Kachin, Mon, Karen, Rahkine, Chin and Karenni. Tensions exist between ethnic groups for territorial, religious and cultural reasons. As a result McClelland describes Burma as a “poly-ethnic country with a millennium-long history of racism-tinged war” (2010). Under British Occupation the differences between these ethnic groups became more profound and tensions further increased. Tensions escalated when in 1962 the Military Junta took power becoming the new Burmese Government and began “Burmanisation of ethnic areas” (Dunlop, 2013). This occurred by replacing place names and minority languages with Burmese and destroying sites of cultural and religious significance to ethnic groups (Dunlop, 2013). As a result several insurgent armies rose in opposition to the Junta. However these groups continue to face severe systematic human rights violations by the army, which is under control of the Burmese Government Military regime.

The Rohingya have not been classed by the Burmese Government as a Burmese ethnic group since 1962 when their citizenship was removed. “The Myanmar government and the overwhelming population of Myanmar call them illegal Bengali migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh” (Kipgen, 2013) although their presence in Burma can be traced back centuries. Furthermore Kipgen (2013) estimates that the majority of Rohingya Muslims reside in Burma not Bangladesh with a difference of approximately 500,000 people. After Rohingya citizenship was removed, Dunlop (2013) states that “Discrimination was institutionalised and limitations imposed on their access to education, employment, travel and public services”.  Although many “subsequently resettled in different parts of South Asia and the Middle East” (Anwar, 2013), a significant number remain trapped within the Arakan State around the Naf River, bouncing between Burma and Bangladesh accepted by neither country. As a result they live in IDP camps or risk the treacherous boat journey across the Bay of Bengal. Recently the BBC (2014) reported the drowning of approximately 70 Rohingya Muslim refugees as their attempt to cross the Bay of Bengal to Malaysia failed. This same story is repeated annually as many attempt the crossing. Larkin (2007) describes how aid is often withheld from the displaced Rohingya and how they must bribe “corrupt authorities” for their basic human rights. Furthermore she goes on to describe how the Bangladeshi Government is reluctant to improve conditions in the camps for fear it may encourage the Rohingya to stay, despite the fact some have lived there for over a decade.  As Dunlop (2013) states “In stark contrast to refugees in Thailand, they received virtually no outside assistance”. Burma Campaign UK (2013) claims that “Burma has a long track record of placing restrictions on international aid, especially in ethnic states”.

The brutality of military dictatorship from 1962 to 2010 prevented any implosion or explosion of the simmering tension between Rakhines and Rohingyas. As the country began to open up to the outside world and the people were gradually allowed to express their opinions more freely since 2011, the lingering tension between the two communities manifested in the form of a violent conflict (Kipgen 2013).

The violence further escalated in October of the same year in what Burma Campaign UK (2013) describes as “systematic attacks against the ethnic Rohingya”. The Burmese Government has done little to stop the violence and as a result has been accused of allowing and supporting ethnic cleansing. Although the Junta denies this, Burma Campaign UK (2013) accuses the Burmese Government for using the conflict as an excuse to deport the Rohingyas by “asking the United Nations to arrange for Rohingya people to be placed in camps, removed from Burma and sent to third countries”. To the surprise of many, Aung San Suu Kyi in a recent BBC 4 Radio interview said…

“This problem arose last year and this is to do with fear on both sides…The fear is not just on the side of the Muslims but also on the side of the Buddhists as well. Muslims have been targeted but also Buddhists have been subjected to violence “(Aung San Suu Kyi cited by Siddique in the Guardian 2013)

However evidence of violence against Buddhists is little and shrinks in comparison to the Rohingya’s “accounts of forced labor, rape, torture, and summary executions at the hands of the Burmese army”. (Larkin 2007) direct violations of the 1998 Human Rights Act.

It can be concluded that the Rohingya Muslims of Burma can be said to be “some of the most persecuted people in the world” (Dunlop 2013) and they are in direct need of increased international assistance as their right.


Isobel Thompson

By Isobel Thompson

Isobel is a first year BA Geography student at Newcastle University. She is passionate about the issues of Human Rights and Development with most of her research focusing on Asia and in particular South East Asia. Isobel has volunteered for and taken part in campaigns of several NGOs including CAFOD, Burma Campaign UK and Amnesty International. She enjoys studying and exploring other cultures, languages and in her spare time she studies Mandarin Chinese.

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