Rohingyas: A People With No Country

Sep 18, 2017 By Renee W, Young Editor
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How would it feel to not have a country to call home? That is the situation that a community of people known as the Rohingyas are facing.

Myanmar (also referred to as Burma) is a country in Southeast Asia. Currently, the Rohingya, a minority group not officially recognized by Myanmar, is being persecuted by the government. 

The United Nations has accused the Myanmar government of committing an act of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Rohingya people. Ethnic cleansing refers to a widespread killing of a specific religious and or ethnic group in a country. Ethnic cleansing has occurred numerous times throughout history – a well-known case is the persecution of Jewish people during World War II.

Who Are The Rohingyas?

The Rohingya people have been living in Myanmar for centuries. They follow the Muslim faith in a country where majority of the people are Buddhists. Most of the Rohingyas live in western Myanmar, in a state called Rakhine, and speak a different language-- the dialect Rohingya or Ruaingga.  

According to historians, Muslims have been living in the area since the 12th century. However in the 19th century, when Myanmar was ruled by the British, laborers from India (which was also under British rule then) were taken to Myanmar to work on plantations. 

After Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948, there was a brief period where Rohingyas were given ID cards and even served in the government. But after the military took control of Myanmar in 1962, they were considered "illegal" and labeled as foreigners. The 1982 citizenship act, passed by Myanmar's government, denied citizenship status to all Rohingyas.

Nowhere To Go...

The Rohingyas are not recognized among the 135 official ethnic groups in Myanmar. They are not allowed to travel without being granted permission. They lack access to higher education, are forced into labor and there is a limit placed on how many children they can have. 

The recent violence against the Rohingyas has been blamed by the Myanmar government on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a group that is fighting to protect the rights of the Rohingyas. They are considered a terrorist group by the Myanmar government after an attack on police posts and an army base. 

Military forces are forcibly removing the Rohingya from their homes – with soldiers burning homes and senselessly killing men, women and children. Aid workers have not been allowed to enter to provide help. More than 400,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh, which is already struggling and turning back new refugees. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the country and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been criticized by the international community for staying silent. She is calling the crisis a "misinformation" that is being used to create further problems within the communities, and believes aid workers are supporting the interests of terrorists.