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Burma: The ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas | Adean

According to various news reports, a campaign of systematic ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims began in Myanmar (Burma) on June 3rd. It was reported that ethnic ‘Rakhine’ Buddhists began a largescale campaign of murder, arson and rape against the native Rohingya population. The Rohingyas, who are all Muslims, have been fleeing to Bangladesh in the hundreds of thousands. Currently, Bangladesh has over 300,000 displaced Rohingyas. With no running water, electricity, or proper sanitation, the Rohingyas temporarily live in squalid refugee camps. The Bangladesh government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recognize only a limited number of refugees within the camps, while Bangladesh refuses to take any more refugees and is reported to have turned away many boatloads. According to Al-Jazeera, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina is reportedly to have said that the refugees were not the Bangladesh’s responsibility.
The Origins of the Rohingyas In the region of the Rakhine in Burma, there are two groups: the Rohingya, who are Muslims, and the Rakhaing, who are Buddhists. The conflict lies in the claim by Buddhists that the Rohingyas are interlopers, not original inhabitants of the region, in spite of the fact that Rohingyas trace their ancestry in Burma to at least eight hundred years back. Buddhists base their claims on the assumption that the Indo-Bengali characteristics of the Rohingyas point to their origins in the Indo-Bengal regions.
Proponents argue that Rohingyas are an indigenous people of the Burmese state whose ancestors embraced Islam after Arab travelers shipwrecked at a place called “Akyab.” According to Rohingya history, Arab traders shipwrecked around the 8th century C.E. and the Arakanese king at the time ordered the shipwrecked executed. The traders then shouted in Arabic, ‘Rahma!’ (Mercy!). From that time on, they were called ‘Raham’. The name evolved into Rhohang and finally became Rohingyas. After this incident, Islam was accepted by the natives and many converted to the new faith. The Burmese state, however, refuses to recognize the Rohingyas as lawful citizens, leaving the people without any form of identification.
In a 2002 report done by Shan Women’s Action Network, 83% of documented rapes committed against the Rohingyas were done by thugs with ties to the Burmese military. The statistics only cover rapes that were reported. Most incidents are never reported due to death threats and intimidation. Recently, the Burmese government declared a state of emergency in the Rakhine region and this led to the implementation of martial law.
Forgotten Massacres Reports that cannot be verified by InFocus claim that the Rakhaing, along with the Burmese soldiers, are entering into villages with populations ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 people and committing extensive atrocities. There is a general sense of lack of awareness about the plight of the Rohingyas due to many reasons.
The Rakhine state is marked as “red territory,” and Rohingyas proponents claim that government forces do not allow aid to reach Muslims but that the Rakhaing are allowed to move freely. Most of the Rohingyas lack identification because they are not recognized by the government, which means Rohingya deaths usually go unreported and unrecorded. Rohingyas claim that there is a deeply embedded racism in the primarily Buddhist Burmese nation towards Muslims, which means that most Burmese citizens do not acknowledge the legitimate claims of injustice done to the Rohingyas. Within Myanmar, the Rohingyas are identified as “internally displaced citizens.” According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, Myanmar president Thein Sein stated that the government is prepared to hand over the Rohingyas to the UNHCR and have it resettle the ethnic group in any third country “that is willing to take them.”
Many Rohingyas hoped democratic icon Aung Sung Su Kyi would win a place in parliament and stand up for Myanmar’s oppressed ethnic minorities like the Rohingyas. However, their hopes were dashed. According to The Nation, Su Kyi was asked about the citizenship status of the Rohingyas during her recent Europe tour. Her response was, “I don’t know. We have to be very clear about what the laws of citizenship are and who are entitled to them.”
The “Recognize Rohingya” campaign’s goal is to spread awareness of the atrocities occurring in Burma. If you would like to get involved, please contact adean@recognizerohingya.org.
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