What is Happening in Myanmar and How Can the World Help?

Myanmar is persecuting the Rohingya people and, despite an outcry last month, the world’s attention has now shifted away from this crisis. Why are the Rohingya people being targeted, and what can we do to help?

Background to the Myanmar crisis: Why is this happening?

Often described as “the world’s most persecuted minority“, the Rohingya are an ethnic minority group the majority of whom are Muslim. They reside in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, specifically in the northern Rakhine State. Despite the fact that the Rohingya have a historical claim to the lands in which they reside, the Myanmar government has repeatedly denied their rights by claiming that, because many Rohingya are descendants of migrants, they have no real claim to citizenship. Myanmar’s official line is that the Rohingya are in fact Bengali and that they have no right to citizenship within Myanmar’s borders. Bangladesh, on the other side, will not recognize them as being naturalized citizens either because Rohingya’s history clearly gives them Burmese (and now Myanmar) heritage.

Myanmar once allowed for an uneasy path to citizenship for the Rohingya. Though they were denied automatic citizenship under the 1948 Union Citizenship Act, they were allowed to apply for citizenship if they could claim more than two generations of history within Myanmar’s borders. Given that many Rohingya have family histories spanning several generations, this meant they could still find legal recognition.

However, in 1962 a military coup in Myanmar changed everything. All citizens were ordered to obtain identity cards, but the Rohingya found they were not allowed to do so. Instead, the Rohingya were given foreign identity cards, marking them as non-native citizens and severely reducing their employment and housing options. In 1982, the institution of a new citizenship act rendered the Rohingya virtually stateless by requiring naturalized citizens to have at least some paperwork that proves their generational history. Many Rohingya were routinely denied that paperwork, and so had no ability to support their claim. 

If this all sounds like the precursor to further inhumane treatment, that’s because it was. In 2013 Human Rights Watch said it had found evidence of a program of ethnic cleansing being carried out against the Rohingya. In 2016 a United Nations official, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said there was evidence of “textbook” ethnic cleansing being perpetrated against the Rohingya. These claims have been supported by several independent groups, including HRW.

In 2017, there has been a definable crackdown on the Rohingya. Myanmar’s military has said it has responded to violent acts by armed Rohingya which killed around 12 people at Myanmar security sites. Human rights groups have charged that any violence from the Rohingya has come as a result of, and not a precursor to, violence from Myanmar’s military.

Nevertheless, reports have surfaced of Myanmar officials, with complicity from the Nobel prize winning leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to start clearing camps and firing “indiscriminately” in Rohingya settlements. Satellite images appear to show Rohingya settlements and urban areas being burned to the ground. Myanmar’s military has said this is a result of the Rohingya burning their own settlements.

It is estimated that, since August, 500,000 Rohingya have fled the violence to neighboring Bangladesh. Over the years, several hundred Rohingya have made the dangerous sea crossing to try to reach Malaysia, often with tragic results.

Bangladesh takes steps to help the Rohingya refugees

The influx of refugees from Myanmar has put an enormous strain on Bangladesh’s abilities to help those affected in this crisis. The many disparate camps set up throughout the Myanmar/Bangladesh border have seen outbreaks of diarrheal diseases that threaten to get out of control. Given the squalid conditions in these makeshift camps, rights agencies are concerned that this could be just the first of what will be several health emergencies.

One solution may however be within reach. Bangladesh has announced a plan to extend a refugee camp at Kutupalong, near the border town of Cox’s Bazar, that could serve 800,000 refugees. The hope is to consolidate resources, unite the Rohingya in a single place and then concentrate on improving sanitation, health screenings and food deployment.

Bangladesh has received high praise from international groups for its definitive action to accommodate and protect the hundreds and even thousands of Rohingya flooding its border every day, but Bangladesh cannot do this work alone. International aid will be crucial to this effort.

Returning refugees to Myanmar

Bangladesh has also announced tentative talks with Myanmar officials over whether refugees may be returned to Myanmar so they can return to their homes. Amnesty International has said that, while such talks are welcome, nothing can move forward until Myanmar ends its violent campaign against the Rohingya and finally gives them the recognition they need to live free lives.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues is quoted as saying, “While it is positive that Myanmar and Bangladesh are discussing options for the safe return of Rohingya to their homes, this must be a voluntary process and not lead to a hasty and reckless effort to push people back against their will. No one should be forced back to a situation where they will continue to face serious human rights violations and systemic discrimination and segregation.”

Gaughran went on to say, “The Myanmar military’s horrific campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine State amounts to crimes against humanity. The very first condition that must be met before any repatriation plan becomes reality is an unconditional end to the violence. But this is not enough – the Myanmar government must also end the entrenched discrimination that has trapped Rohingya in a cycle of deprivation and abuse for decades.”

What the world can do to help the Rohingya: Say their name!

Notable names such as the Dalai Lama have spoken out in support of the Rohingya, but there has been a definite silence among world leaders.

Even when the US state department issued concerns early in late September it did not name the Rohingya directly and instead maintained that there was wrongdoing on both sides. This equivocation denies the detailed history of persecution that the Rohingya have faced, and the refusal to name the Rohingya plays into Myanmar’s refusal to acknowledge the Rohingya’s citizenship.

Care2 members can sign this petition calling on the United Nations to immediately investigate the situation unfolding in Myanmar.

Photo credit: CAFOD .

40 comments

Misss D
Misss Dyesterday

Why on earth not, Muff? Do you not think that the United Nations should look into violence and ethnic cleansing? What a strange opinion to have.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie3 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie3 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie3 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Ellie M
Ellie M4 days ago

ty

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Leo C
Leo C7 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Winn A
Winn A7 days ago

Noted

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Winn Adams
Winn A7 days ago

:-(

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Anne M
Anne M7 days ago

Sounds like they're on their own,, unfortunately...

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Cruel J
Cruel Justice8 days ago

I don't have enough FACTS to make an intelligent comment.

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