The What and Why of the Rohingya Crisis

The Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim minority group, who are currently facing humanitarian crisis. More than 80 lacs Rohingyas have fled from the country of Myanmar where they made up almost one-third of the population. Despite their large numbers, the Rohingyas are neither recognized as one of the 135 ethnic groups of the predominantly Buddhist country nor have they been granted citizenship; they are not considered people. During the census of 2014 in Myanmar, the Rohingya community wasn’t included. The Rohingyas speak Bengali and differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups both ethnically and religiously. This fact has added fuel to the fire between these two groups since time immemorial. The aversion between the two communities can also be traced back to the Second World War when the Rohingyas supported the British administration, whereas the Buddhist majority was in support of the Japanese.  

A Peek into the Past

The Rohingyas were shifted from Bangladesh (still India at the time) by the Britishers to the Rakhine state of Burma (now Myanmar) as a part of an internal migration, since Burma too was under the British colonial rule. Post-independence, this migration was termed illegal by the Burmese government because it took place during the British rule. However, the true root of the community is under much debate and a matter that is being decoded by historians and anthropologists for a very long time. The Union Citizenship Act, which came after Myanmar’s independence, excluded the Rohingyas from the list defining the ethnicities that could gain citizenship. But the families that could prove their ancestral history of living in Myanmar for at least two generations could however, apply for identity cards. Interestingly, the members of the Rohingya community even served in the Parliament for a while. But things took a turn for the worse for the Rohingyas after the military coup in 1962, following which they were denied any rights they possessed before. Although the identity cards did not serve as a certificate of citizenship, they did serve as a permit for a temporary stay in Myanmar. But now the Rohingyas were left stateless. Over the years that have followed, the Rohingya community has not only experienced being stripped of their basic human rights like education, health and practicing their religion, but also have been denied the rights to travel freely in the country, to marry, and to apply for candidature in elections and voting. They have also been repressed by both the government and the Buddhist majority which has made them the most persecuted minority in the world.  

In the recent years…

The oppression faced by Rohingyas has forced them to flee from a country where they have lived for centuries. The condition worsened and the number of refugees increased after 2012, when a group of Buddhist nationalists set fire to Rohingya villages, and killed about 300 people in response to an alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman. The communal clash led to the onset of displacement of Rohingyas in thousands. The Rohingyas are also not allowed to leave the state of Rakhine without government approval, even though they are not recognized. This makes ‘leaving’ even more difficult for them. Despite their impoverished conditions they are forced to pay tonnes of money to smugglers to help them flee to the nearby Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh and Malaysia, and several others. Due to the dangerous journeys through forests and via boats, many don’t even make it out alive. Those who do survive the journey do not find their share of hardships over. Currently, Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh shelters the largest number of Rohingya refugees with their numbers ranging anywhere between 35 thousand to over 1 lac, including the undocumented refugees who are living in makeshift campsites. The Bangladesh government considers these refugees illegal infiltrators and plans to relocate them. It has also refused to host any more refugees. Many of them have immigrated to Malaysia where they work illegally. In 2015, the Rohingyas earned the title of the ‛boat people’ when they failed to gain an entry in multiple countries and were stranded to live in their overcrowded boats.
Picture courtesy: Reuters
According to the Myanmar government, a group of Rohingya rebels attacked more than 30 police posts in Northern Rakhine in August 2017, killing a dozen policemen. Following this incident, the resident Rohingya civilians began fleeing the country and into Bangladesh in huge numbers, fearing prosecution. And soon enough, the Myanmar military forces and the Buddhist extremists began, what is now being called ethnic cleansing. More than 350 villages were burned down in retaliation, with about 1000 Rohingyas being murdered. Cases of multiple sexual violence and rapes, torture, looting and mass murders have been recorded. By September, people in numbers more than 4 lacs had run away from Myanmar to save their lives. This refugee crisis is heart-wrenching and calls for action on an international level. Various humanitarian organizations and countries are trying to convince the Myanmar government to grant citizenship to the Rohingyas and put an end to the communal violence.

What we can do!

As people who live in a country with an unwelcoming view towards the Rohingya refugees, the least we can do is keep ourselves up to date with their plight and try to help in whatever way we can. As a country that boasts of its diversity, we need to be accepting and welcoming towards our fellow human beings who need our help and support, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or beliefs. What kind of threat a few of them ‛might’ bring or how dangerous they ‛might’ turn out to be, is not enough of a reason for us to be reluctant to receive them. A contingency we fear should not make us cold-shouldered towards thousands who need our help to save their lives, because that’s not who we are!
We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you!