- Lucia Guzman Rodriguez
The Rohingya Crisis. Source: CNN
The Muslim Rohingya have been indigenous people of Myanmar for centuries, however, they are not recognized as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. The Myanmar government denies them citizenship, claiming they’re illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and therefore, they are essentially stateless.
Due to nationalist-fueled racism and Islamophobia, the Myanmar government and ultra-nationalist Buddhists of the region have denied that Rohingya even exist. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces has said, “I would like to make sure the world knows there are no Rohingya in Myanmar.” The Myanmar military is now taking action to ensure that this statement becomes a reality.
After many years of persecution and the vicious 2016 attacks, a group of Rohingyan surgeons formed the ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) who claim to fight for citizenship and basic rights for the Rohingya people. On August 25th 2017, they launched a coordinated attack on several security outposts which resulted in the death of 12 officers. In a matter of hours, the military cracked down on the densely Rohingya-populated Rakhine state, killing thousands of Rohingya, committing widespread rape and burning down entire villages in so-called ‘clearance operations’.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize has said “I don’t think there’s ethnic cleansing going on, it’s a matter of people on different sides of a divide.” However, the footage that is being leaked from Rakhine state — despite the government’s attempt at a media blackout — tells a different story.
Words like Suu Kyi’s have little credibility when stories of survivors were released. Jamalida Begum recounts October 11th 2016, “they shot him [her husband] dead and burned down his shop.” She recalls how a few days later on the 16th, the military took her, assaulted her and beat her unconscious. State-sponsored media took her story and called it a prime example of ‘fake rape’.
Despite journalists facing arrest in Rakhine state, many images and videos have been released showing that Jamalida’s experience is nothing but true.
In the midst of this terror, the Rohingya people have taken to the Naf River between Myanmar and Bangladesh - which has opened its borders to the refugees. “We have seen the villages burning very very clearly. All these places were covered with smoke.” Says a Bangladeshi Border Guard, “In one day, there could be 10,000-15,000 people crossing to Bangladesh.”
The Rohingya are now living in the Kutupalong Extension Site in Bangladesh, currently the world’s largest refugee camp. This is one of the most densely populated places in the world with up to 60,000 inhabitants per km2. Bangladesh is reacting to the hundreds of thousands of refugees by cutting off the Rohingya’s peoples’ access to the rest of the country, henceforth trapping them in the refugee camps.
In February of 2020, Bangladesh gave Myanmar a list of 80,000 Rohingya, the first group supposed to be repatriated. The Rohingya people fear that if they return to Myanmar, they will be kept in concentration camps. These fears are not unfounded. Myanmar recently announced the construction of ‘transit camps’ where Rohingya will be held against their will after repatriation. These camps have sparked tension amongst ARSA who plan to take action against their construction soon.
Since the arrival of the Rohingya, the local Bangladeshi people have complained of increasing prices andhigher rates of theft and vandalism. Bangladesh meets the Rohingya with hostility. As of now, they can not gain Bangladeshi citizenship and the Bangladeshi government is taking action to register and repatriate the Rohingya people. Officials advertise the registration process as something that will be helpful to Rohingya, misleading them into a situation where their lives are at risk.
The US and EU have taken little more action than making statements and donations to the Bangladeshi government. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has said he has “never seen a population so discriminated [against] in the world,” and that “this is the worst crisis we are facing in today’s world.” The Rohingya people continue to be at risk today and are actively being sent back to Myanmar. There is a genocide occurring, yet their stories are being brushed off and they are receiving no aid. The media coverage is minimal, yet still, this remains one of the most atrocious genocides of our time.