Depending on what news you watch and read and how often you absorb it, you may or may not know about the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Wherever you stand on the continuum of awareness, this article will help gain a wider understanding of the crisis which has been described by the United Nations as “textbook ethnic cleansing”, meaning genocide/the purposeful removal, via killing, of a certain ethnic or religious group.
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are an ethnic minority in Myanmar who are currently being persecuted by the military of the country. Rohingya Muslims are Rohingyas who subscribe to Islam, which also makes them a minority as Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country. Technically, the Rohingyas are stateless and have no official native land due to restrictive laws in Myanmar which means they are not classed as full citizens.
Why does Myanmar dislike the Rohingyas?
Myanmar used to be Burma when it was under British colonial rule from 1824 to 1948. During this time was the height of the British Empire which also controlled India. Britain made Burma a province of India and there was significant immigration between those two countries and neighbouring Bangladesh. Immigrants at this time were largely labourers and Burmese natives were not fans of this at all.
So, when the country gained independence from Britain, it began to change the way it viewed citizenship. It declared that all of the immigration that had taken place under British rule was illegal, and so it denied citizenship to the Rohingyas as a result. Throughout Myanmar’s history, the rights of the Rohingya have gotten worse. They are not allowed to vote, practice their religion or have the same rights to opportunities as others living in the country. This is all despite the fact that the Rohingya have been in Myanmar for generations and are just as much natives as the Buddhist government.
What is happening to the Rohingya Muslims?
The United Nations has been clear in calling out Myanmar for committing genocide. This is the same genocide committed by Hitler, committed in Rwanda and in Cambodia.
The military in Myanmar have been torching the villages of Rohingyas, raping women and children and murdering people. A Sky News report showed babies being dumped and left to die in Myanmar, an unnamed killing field and evidence of starvation and malnutrition. The Rohingyas are being driven out of the country (or being killed) by the military, resulting in some 900,000 of them fleeing to nearby Bangladesh which is struggling to cope with the huge number of refugees.
What is the Myanmar government saying?
Aung San Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s Sate Counsellor, which is the equivalent to Prime Minister. She has said very little about the genocide which is going on under her watch. However, her office has claimed that aid groups are helping support “terrorists” within the country and she said last year that she was willing to verify the citizenship of anyone who fled the country within the month before she made the speech. The issue is, though, that Suu Kyi failed to provide any real security or thorough promise for the Rohingyas and the military is still raping and murdering their fellow people.
Suu Kyi and her government do not believe in the term ‘Rohingya’ either, viewing it as a recent political invention, rather than a real ethnicity. They believe that the Rohingyas are actually Bengali, which is unhelpful for any future of reconciliation they may have.
What is the rest of the world doing about this?
Currently, the rest of the world is doing very little. Although Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took a trip to Myanmar earlier this month, he did not actually do anything. He told Suu Kyi that she should allow the UN to supervise the return of the Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar as they are too terrified to return as it is. He met terrified villagers and saw burned out villages too, but at the moment these are just words and sympathies.
We are waiting for more, but it is a very slow process.