Behind the Rohingya Crisis
Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 10 PM ET/PT
WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA? WHY ARE THEY FLEEING MYANMAR?
BY TAHIAT MAHBOOB
WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA?
The Rohingya are a primarily Muslim ethnic group who have lived in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country for centuries.
HOW LARGE IS THE ROHINGYA POPULATION?
Approximately 1.1 million Rohingya people live in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
WHERE DO THE ROHINGYA RESIDE?
Nearly all of Myanmar’s Rohingya population lives in Rakhine, a western coastal state.
WHAT LANGUAGE DO THE ROHINGYA SPEAK?
The Rohingya speak Rohingya or Ruaingga. It’s different from the other languages and dialects spoken in Rakhine State and throughout Myanmar. It is linguistically similar to a Bengali dialect spoken in Chittagong, a district in the southernmost part of Bangladesh bordering Myanmar.
HOW LONG HAVE THE ROHINGYA LIVED IN MYANMAR?
Muslim presence in Arakan — now Rakhine state — dates back to the 9th century.
Myanmar was colonized by the British in a series of wars starting in 1824. Between 1824 and 1948, a significant number of labourers from modern day India and Bangladesh migrated to what is now Myanmar. These migrations were considered internal at the time because Myanmar was a British-administered province of India. The migrations were also encouraged to increase rice cultivation and profits. Between 1871 to 1911, the Muslim population tripled, according to census records. In exchange for their support, the British also promised the Rohingya a “Muslim National Area.” This promise was never fulfilled.WHY ARE THE ROHINGYA NOT RECOGNISED AS CITIZENS OF MYANMAR?
A majority of the native population of Myanmar view the migration that took place between 1824-1948 negatively. After its independence in 1948, tensions between the Rohingya population and the Myanmar government grew. Officials rejected their request for the autonomous state they were promised, and denied them citizenship.
The Union Citizenship Act, passed after Myanmar’s independence in 1948, defined which ethnicities could gain citizenship — the Rohingya were not included. The act did have one provision for them: those whose families had lived in Myanmar for at least two generations were allowed to apply for identity cards. But after a military coup in 1962, these identity cards were no longer valid. The Rohingya were issued foreign identity cards, that limited their educational and professional opportunities.
The Citizenship Act of Myanmar, enacted in 1982, did not recognise the Rohingya as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, rendering them stateless. The Myanmar government still considers the migration that took place between 1824-1948 illegal and refuses to grant citizenship to a majority of the Rohingya.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE OF THE ROHINGYA?
The Rohingya are the single largest “stateless” community in the world, today. For decades they have faced systemic discrimination in Myanmar based on their lack of citizenship in Myanmar. They don’t have access to basic health services and education. They do not have any legal protection from the government, cannot worship freely, face restrictions on owning property, marrying freely, and traveling freely. Many of these restrictions, such as not being allowed to have more than two children, are codified into law.
WHAT HAPPENED ON AUGUST 25, 2017?
On August 25, 2017, an armed insurgency group in northern Rakhine State called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), targeted approximately 30 police posts and an army base, killing 12 people. This attack prompted the Burmese military to take action against the Rohingya population in Rakhine state, attacking villagers, burning down homes, and forcing them to flee.
HOW MANY ROHINGYA HAVE LEFT MYANMAR? WHERE HAVE THEY GONE?
Nearly one million Rohingya have left Myanmar since the late 1970s because of persecution. Following riots in Rakhine state in 2012, approximately 120,000 Rohingya left their homes and went to internment camps in Sittwe, the state capital.
Most recently, after violence broke out in Rakhine state in August 2017, the UNHCR estimates that 607,000 have fled Myanmar. A vast majority of the Rohingya have gone to Bangladesh. Others have travelled by boat to India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.