For long, we have heard about the violence against Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar (Burma). But what exactly is the issue about?

The violence against Rohingya Muslims is symptomatic of a long and oppressive history of discrimination for which the Buddhist-majority government of Myanmar is to blame. Made to endure the brutality and oppression of the military junta, more than 200,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh in the late 1970s. 

Violence Against Rohingya People: Brutality in Myanmar

In 1982, Burma revoked the Rohingyas’ citizenship and no longer recognised them as one of the 135 “national races”. Since then the Rohingya have been denied their most basic human rights, like the right to own land, self-identify, health care, freedom of movement, education and to marry without government permission. They have been subjected to forced labour. Even worse, they are compelled to undergo forced sterilisation as part of the population control laws which the government has enforced.

Rohingya children line up for a ration of rice for their families.

Rohingya children line up for a ration of rice for their families. This is when the area is calm enough for the people to receive aid. Other times the refugees will be too afraid to go to a distribution for fear of being attacked and robbed by local people.

The government, and Burmese society, consider the Rohingya Muslims to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Official statements refer to them as “Bengali” or “so-called Rohingya” or the pejorative “kalar”.

The vast majority of Rohingya refugees remain in Bangladesh, unable to return due to the negative attitude of Myanmar’s ruling regime. Despised by the Buddhist majority they are denied citizenship, education, freedom of movement, employment, etc. Systematic violence against Rohingya people has become a norm.

Men, Women and Children walk for hours daily to collect water

Men, Women and Children walk for hours daily in the blistering heat with whatever they can use to collect water from anywhere that they can. In Leda, many choose a 4 kilometer walk to a natural pond by the roadside. The water is cloudy and brown color. It will be used for cooking and drinking untreated.

Violence against Rohingya has forced them to migrate in droves as “boat people”, risking their lives on the sea to seek work opportunities outside Myanmar. Many who cannot pay for the journey are sent to work on rubber plantations by the human trafficking rackets or sold as slaves.

Makeshift schools and madrasahs for Rohingya children

Makeshift schools and madrasahs along with the determination of local people and refugees to care for the students is a mainly unspoken about mercy for Rohingya in Bangladesh. It is often done at risk to the educators and organisers. “Right now, the government does not favor the Rohingya people. So if we help them we must do so quietly, because there are many problems.” One Imam said.

The rise of the right-wing Buddhist extremists has also contributed to the violence against Rohingya. The head monk of the 969, Ashin Wirathu, has made it his mission to “save” the country from being overrun by the Rohingya (who make up less than 5% of the population).

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Despite Burma’s apparent transition to democracy in 2011, violence against Rohingya Muslims has worsened. Yet, trade relations between Burma, UK and USA are booming which brings into question the  respect for human rights these ‘democracies’ have.

The biggest disappointment has been Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Her silence on the issue has been contemptible and many who fought for her release from house arrest feel betrayed by her lack of concern. Since her party’s landslide victory (in an election that did not allow the 1.1 million Rohingya people to vote), the situation for the Rohingya has only deteriorated. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has gone so far as to request diplomats and foreign organisations to not even use the word ‘Rohingya’.

As it becomes obvious, the Rohingya Muslims have nowhere to go. Their own government aids in their massacre.

Learn more about the plight of the Rohingya people over at Protect the Rohingya Facebook group.

All photos/captions (C) Danikae | All images were taken across Rohingya refugee camps near the coastal border between Bangladesh and Myanmar