The Rohingya people are described as the world’s most persecuted population. About 1.1 million Rohingyas live in Rakhine State, Myanmar, where they have coexisted alongside Buddhists for decades and are descendants of Muslims, perhaps Persian and Arab traders. They speak a language similar to the Bengali dialect of Chittagong in Bangladesh. Rohingyas are angrily criticized as illegal immigrants and suffer from systematic discrimination. The Myanmar government treats them as stateless people and denies them citizenship. Severe restrictions have been placed on their freedom of movement, access to medical assistance, education, and other basic services.
On August 25th, violence broke out in the northern area of Rakhine. Militants attempted to attack government forces. In response, security forces supported by Buddhist militia launched a “clearance operation” that killed at least 1,000 people and forced more than 300,000 out of their homes. Refugees have experiences they describe as massacres in their villages, where they say soldiers raided and burned down their houses. But the government claims the Rohingyas burned their own houses and killed Buddhists and Hindus.
Estimates of the death toll vary: According to the Myanmar government about 400 people have been killed so far. The UN estimated that 1,000 had been killed. Bangladesh’s foreign minister, AH Mahmood Ali, claims the death toll is about 3,000. More than 310,000 people fled to Bangladesh by September 11th, 2017. Those who have made it to the border have walked for days, hid in jungles, and crossed mountains and rivers. Many were sick and had bullet wounds. Aid agencies warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in border camps, where food, water, and medical supplies are running out of stock. Most refugees are now living in established camps, makeshift settlements, or sheltering in host communities. Nearly 50,000 settlements provided.
On September 4th, the UN said it’s aid agencies have been blocked from supplying life-saving supplies such as food, water and medicine to thousands of civilians in the northern Rakhine state. In October 2016, nine police officers were killed by armed men, believed to be Muslims determined by officials. 87,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh in result to the violence. A senior UN official supposes the Myanmar government were seeking to get rid of all the Muslim minorities in the country. The government denies the charge. In August, Myanmar increased the number of troops after seven buddhists were found hacked to death. This was a warning of a fresh wave of violence.
The most recent violence is seen as a major escalation because of the involvement of the new Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The attacks on the government forces were an act of self-defence. The government has claimed that they are targeting militants responsible for the attacks on the security forces. The majority of those killed were terrorists according to the government of Burma. It also says Rohingyas are burning their own villages claimed by a journalist who reported seeing new fires abandoned by Rohingya people.
The government has also accused international aid workers of helping terrorists escape villages. Which now results in aid workers fearing for their own safety. “The simple fact here is that lifesaving aid is being blocked from reaching vulnerable people who desperately need it, including the children and the elderly.” said Pierre Perron, spokesman from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Burma. The United Nations called this the Burmese’ military campaign in Rakhine a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The Nobel peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power and was hoping he would help heal the country’s ethnic divides. She was accused of not doing anything while violence was committed against the Rohingya. International pressure is growing on her to curb the military operations. In 2016, she appointed the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan to lead a long-term commission but has failed to criticise violence on the Rohingya. On Thursday September 7th, she defended her handling on the crisis. Some believed she blamed the terrorists about the violence and didn’t mention the Rohingyas fleeing at all.
Wednesday October 25th, marks the two-month anniversary of attacks in Burma (also known as Myanmar) that triggered a massive and random retaliation from the Burmese military. With thousands of Rohingyas still crossing the border today, the total number of refugees crossed is expected at 1 million. Many live in camps for displaced people because they were thought to still be in Burma. The Burmese military campaign has become less intense, food shortages and widespread hostility. The government of Burma must take immediate action to ensure peace and security, including its armed forces.
“Implement commitments to ensure humanitarian access to communities in desperate need, facilitate the safe and voluntary return of those who have fled or been displaced in Rakhine state and address the root causes of systematic discrimination against the Rohingya,” the State Department said in a statement. Finally, Bangladesh and Burma came to an agreement to form a working committee that could seek ways to return some Rohingyas back to Burma. But the Burmese government warned that they will only allow Rohingyas with proof of land ownership in Burma to return. Most of their documents of proof were lost in the chaos of the crackdown.
With hundreds of Rohingya villages reduced to ashes, the question is where would they live if they returned to Burma? Sprawling out city tents may be the better option to live with the aid being blocked to camps and Buddhists unified in their antipathy. In the 1900s, the Bangladeshi government resorted to forced repatriation, but there were no indications they would do it again. Reports from the media seem to indicate the Burmese government plans on appropriating land vacated and may even harvest unattended crops. Most of the 604,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh are children. Thousands were unaccompanied and malnourished.
At an international conference in Geneva, donors pledged around $340 million to the UN-led response. When they had asked for $100 million more than that. The camps without borders were called a “time bomb ticking toward a full-blown health crisis” as sanitation, medical services and distribution of clean water have struggled to keep up with refugee rivals. Bangladesh is already the world’s most densely populated large country. It is also one of the poorest. The government and civil society have provided a mass amount of aid. The long-term viability of the camps rely on continued international support. The presence of nearly 1 million penniless refugees straining from what was already very underdeveloped public services such as roads and hospitals.
The UN investigators said they had been told by refugees about “killings, torture, rape, and arson” done by Burmese troops. The Rohingya Muslims been facing discrimination for many years. In 1982, military ruler Ne Win introduced a law that rendered them stateless and set controls on where they could live, the jobs they could have and who they could marry. The country’s transition towards democracy has done little to help them, in result it might have worsen the situation; countless thousands have fled by boat, putting their lives in the hands of smugglers, and out to sea in unsafe boats trying to reach countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Bangladesh has been among those to call on Burma to take the refugees back, saying they do not have the source’s to handle so many people.