Photograph — New York Times

The Rohingya are often described as the world’s most persecuted minority. A Muslim minority of about 1.1 million people living mainly in the state of Arakan, in Myanmar, who are not recognised as citizens by the Burmese government.

Without a nationality, Rohingya Muslims have faced harsh persecution in their home state which has made thousands of them embark on dangerous journeys to  Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia amidst reports of abuse.

Source: International State Crime Initiative (ISCI)
Source: International State Crime Initiative (ISCI)

In the latest development following their persecution, Malaysia has accused Myanmar of engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of the Muslim minority, as former United Nations chief, Kofi Annan, visited a burned-out village in violence-hit Rakhine state.

Malaysia’s statement noted that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries in recent years, including approximately 56,000 to Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The Myanmar government has said that the Rakhine crisis is an internal issue, but observers are quick to point out that the issue is part of a long-term, systematic strategy by the government to remove the Rohingya minority.

Myanmar is made up of a predominantly Buddhist faith which accounts for 80 percent of the population, other groups include Burmese folk religion, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Islam which makes up about 4 percent, according to a 2010 poll.

International pressure on the country is mounting as the continuous persecution and government restrictions have been likened to apartheid. Many of the “lucky ones” who make it out of Myanmar to neighbouring countries earn less than minimum wages and live in dire conditions, surrounded by waste and abject lack of concern from foreign governments. Many are trafficked to countries such as Malaysia with no idea what might occur, and with them are tales of horrors, from illness to violence and in many cases death.

According to Amnesty International, the Bangladeshi government has begun forcibly repatriate asylum seekers regardless of international law.

Parts of Rakhine, have been on military lockdown since October 9, where nine border police guards were killed in what appeared to have been coordinated attacks on security posts. The government said the assailants were Islamic militants and began its search for what it said were hundreds of Rohingya jihadists.

More than 150,000 people who normally receive life-saving assistance have been barred from food and medical aid for over six weeks.

Buddhist teachings tend to promote peace and compassion, as the first precept is abstaining from taking life, and the Buddha clearly stated that the taking of human or animal life would lead to negative karmic consequences.

So ,why has there been an ensuing dispassion among both ethnoreligious groups in Myanmar?

Victims and Violence

A report released by ISCI found compelling evidence of state-led policies, laws and strategies of genocidal persecution stretching back over 30 years, and of the Myanmar State coordinating with Rakhine ultra-nationalists, racist monks and its own security forces in a genocidal process against the Rohingya.

The unstable nature of the relationship the Rohingya Muslims have with Burmese locals goes as far back as 1559 AD when Burmese king Bayinnaung imposed sanctions upon his Muslim subjects and from then on it has been a tale of oppression and bloodshed.

By 1921, despite the colonial powers of the British, the divides between the two groups continued to widen in a fashion similar to genocide. Muslims, regardless of their heritage, were referred to as “Kala”–which roughly translates to “black” and used to racially discriminate them.

At the peak of the poor relations, on 22 September 1938, the British set up an Inquiry Committee to investigate the riots. It was determined that the discontent was caused by the deterioration in socio-political and economic condition of Burmese locals. However, the report was used to incite sectarianism by Burmese newspapers.

In recent times, the persecution entered a devastating phase in 2012 when over 200 Rohingya men, women and children were killed following massacres sparked by the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Muslim men. Homes were destroyed and around 138,000 Rohingya were displaced and ended up in what are effectively detention camps.

A further 4,500 desperate Rohingya people live in a squalid ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state’s capital.

The Myanmar government’s escalating institutionalised discrimination against the Rohingya has allowed hate speech to flourish, encouraged Islamophobia and granted impunity to perpetrators of the violence.

The systematic, planned and targeted weakening of the Rohingya through mass violence and other measures, as well as the regime’s successive implementation of discriminatory and persecutory policies against them, amounts to a process of genocide. This process has accelerated during Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

The reality of the situation is that, the Buddhists in Myanmar have never accepted Muslims as citizens regardless of migratory patterns and settlements. The Citizenship Act only goes further to prove such a narrative, instead Rohingyas are required to provide multitude of proofs to provide rights to them as Muslims.

The government has shown little concern in addressing the issue and have been known to try to convert them to Buddhism, deport them to other countries and also engage them in government-run projects without remuneration, further adding to their discrimination and persecution.

For many Rohingyas, the alternative is escape. Malaysia’s Muslim politicians, seeking a chance to encourage religiousness, insist that ethnic Malays have a duty to help the Rohingyas. Unless something changes, things will shift from bad to worse for Rohingyas in Myanmar.


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