To this day, the Rohingya people haven’t been able to see a ray of hope in terms of justice for their homes and safety. The crisis has caught on the attention worldwide, and yet they still are stateless and constantly living in terror. Despite the fact that the Rohingya crisis has been around for a few years in the media, the conflict actually goes way beyond back. The recent wave of violence is the latest in a pattern of discrimination that started over 50 years ago.
Contrary to some beliefs, the Rohingya crisis isn’t about Buddhist vs Muslims, but it’s a matter of aggression and tension due to history. Further explanation can be seen through the summarised chronology below.
Myanmar/Burma was taken over by the military in a coup. They got rid of the country’s constitution and created a military junta, as well as promoted fierce nationalism based on the Buddhist identity.
Tensions between the Burmese Buddhist population and the Rohingya go back to the World War II when each group supported opposing sides. The Rohingya sided with the British colonialists who ruled the country and the Buddhist mostly sided with the Japanese invaders hoping they’d help end the British rule after the war.
“Operation Dragon King”, a massive crackdown, forced about 200,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. The military reportedly used violence and rape to drive them out.
At the urging of the UN, Burmese leadership repatriate Rohingya back to their ancestral land in Burma, where about 170,000 Rohingya people reportedly returned.
The Burmese military government adopts the Burma Citizenship Law, where these repressive laws strip the Rohingya of their citizenship. The government passed the Citizenship Act recognising 135 ethnic groups, where the Rohingya which had a population of about one million were not on the list. As a result, the entire Rohingya population is rendered stateless in their own ancestral homes.
Myanmar’s military launched another campaign, literally called “Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation”. This time, about 250,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, which the tensions continued to build against the Rohingya in the 2000s.
Violence broke out when four Muslim men were accused of raping and killing a Buddhist woman in Rakhine. Buddhist nationalist backed by security forces attacked Muslim neighbourhoods, burned homes displacing tens of thousands of Rohingya again.
After the neighbourhoods are burned to ashes, an estimated 135,000 to 250,000 Rohingyas are herded by the military into about concentration camps.
Human Rights Watch deemed it an ethnic cleansing campaign. By this point, the Rohingya were persecuted, disenfranchised and stateless.
In a policy that amounts to ethnic cleansing Burma’s president, Thein Sein, asks the UN to take responsibility for the 1,000,000++ Rohingya population, and resettle them to a third country.
Despite assurances to the UN, the Burmese government refused to count Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s first census in 30 years. Rohingya claim to be 3 to 5 million while the Burmese government claims they are less than a million.
House Resolution 418 passes an amendment using the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people. Furthermore, to respect internationally recognised human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma.
A Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), emerged and coordinated small-scale attacks on the border police station.
An attack on August 25th left twelve police officers dead and sparked the current crisis against Rohingya civilians. A brutal retaliation by the state security forces has led to about 400 deaths and the mass exodus of about 400,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. Since the August attack, 210 villages have been burned to the ground.
The violent campaign has triggered the fastest growing humanitarian crisis in recent years, but Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Ky has barely acknowledged the attacks.
“More than 50% of the villagers of Muslims are intact — they are as they were before the attacks took place,” she said.
By October, the international community begins to act in the case of Rohingya’s expulsion out of the country. World leaders and international organisations pledge $344 million to fund mostly UN-run humanitarian relief programs to aid the Rohingya — but the figure is still $90 million less than what the UN needs to adequately address the crisis. The US also threatens to sanction Myanmar, adding that US aid cannot be used to fund the Burmese military’s campaign against the Rohingya.
The Current Situation
607,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, according to the International Organization for Migration, and more arrive daily. They join the thousands of Rohingya refugees who have lived in Bangladesh’s camps for decades, having fled previous bouts of violence.
Myanmar was home to 1.1 million Rohingya people — today there are more Rohingya in Bangladesh than in their native Myanmar.