The Oppression of the Rohingya in Burma Continues

On Having No Place to Lay Your Head

Politics Features Rohingya
The Oppression of the Rohingya in Burma Continues

The Rohingya are still being persecuted by their country. Although the government of Myanmar has taken a step back from most blatant and flagrant public persecutions, the unjust oppression of these people continues apace. Their schools are destroyed, they are slandered and denied from every corner. Now the far-right Hindu nationalists of India threaten them with death.

Three days ago, an alleged Rohingya paramilitary group attacked two Burmese villagers on two separate occasions. The government of Myanmar is on high alert. There is a chance that the national authorities will use this occasion to injure or kill many Rohingya under the cover of “crackdown” and “reprisal.” The government has a long history of using the actions of a few Rohingya to devastate the rest. As Reuters reminds us,

Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar border guard posts in October, provoking a military crackdown in which hundreds were killed, more than 1,000 houses burned down and some 75,000 Rohingya Muslims forced to flee to Bangladesh.


The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in the country of Myanmar, formerly Burma. The country is liberalizing, but slowly. And the same authoritarian prejudices obtain. The hateful strain is still there. Bit by bit, the state has been stripping away rights from the Muslims of Myanmar. Until the rest of the world intervened, the Rohingya were well on their way to becoming entirely stateless in every sense—as in, their right to live would be questioned too.

The Rohingya are considered illegal immigrants by the authorities of Myanmar—the offshoot of migrants who came into the nation in 1948 and 1971. Scholars and the Rohingya disagree, of course. There are 1.3 million of these people, mostly in the Rakhine state. 100,000 of them live in camps where they are kept by the authorities. Slave labor and execution are used under Burmese rule. In 2009, a UN spokeswoman described the Rohingya as “probably the most friendless people in the world.”

It is odd, that the government of Myanmar is so sure that the Rohingya are newcomers. After all, there have been Muslims in Rakhine since the 15th century. Which is more likely: that all the Rohingya lie, or that the government finds some explanations more convenient? Governments have even been known to dissemble, from time to time.

About that October attack on the police forts. What most commentators miss about the Rohingya is this was not an even contest. The officials say that Arsa, an armed Rohingya resistance movement, is a terrorist cell. Violence is never the answer, and it is not excused on behalf of the Rohingya, but what did the Burmese expect? Grind people down into the dirt, and some of them will act out unjustly. The Rohingya are mercilessly hassled under the sanction of law. Desperation is their lot. Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority country, and the monks and other leaders of that country—including the State Counselor herself, the much-celebrated Aung San Suu Kyi—seem to delight in marginalizing them.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has spoken of their plight:

“I am not an expert in politics or international law,” said Cardinal Bo. “I am moved by human suffering… The enormous suffering of the population of Rakhine is one of my great concerns.” Cardinal Bo said that the government of Myanmar to “move away from position that do not favor peace” and to “work with the international community to investigate the crimes reported by the UN in a truly independent manner that leads to justice.”


Pick any week, and there’s some new incident displaying the indifference of Myanmar to its Muslim citizens. On the second of June, Myanmar charged three Muslim men for holding Ramadan prayers in the street. Forget for a moment the oddity of arresting people for practicing their religion. This happened because a larger crowd of about fifty Muslims were worshiping on a road in Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). Why were they praying in the street? Why, because ultra-nationalist Buddhist mob shut down the local madrassah.

Two officers tried to stop AFP journalists from filming when they visited one of the madrasas on Friday. “It’s our mosque as well as our school. We don’t know when it will be reopened,” Khin Soe, a local resident in his 50s, said as he set off to pray in another part of town.

And these bigotries are not limited to Myanmar alone. India supports its share of nastiness. Thanks to Myanmar’s crimes, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled abroad, citizens of nowhere. Many of them end in Bangladesh. Quite a few of them live India now. Some of these Rohingya took sanctuary in Jammu City five years ago. Most of them work as unskilled laborers. But the ruling government of India does not want them there. According to TRT World,

… circumstances turned unpleasant soon after the Hindu far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won India’s national elections in 2014 and formed the government in India, replacing a secular Congress Party. … The city’s trade union has echoed [a conservative politician’s] demand and allegedly threatened to kill Rohingyas if they don’t clear the area soon. Several billboards have sprung up across the city. Some of them read: “Wake up Jammu. Rohingyas and Bangladeshis. Quit Jammu.” And the others carry a rallying cry to “unite and save the history, culture and identity of [the] Dogras.”

Muhammad Younis, a Rohingya, is forty-one. He lives in a hut, and works as a construction worker in the city.

Witnessing this growing hostility, Younis is unable to sleep at night. There are 1,200 Rohingya families living in the city and they are feeling equally vulnerable. “We are not living illegally here,” Younis says. “We have the UNHCR cards. How can these parties threaten us when we have gone through all the legal formalities?”

The UN, according to Al-Jazeera, has “appointed a three-member team to investigate alleged abuses by security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.” This is not enough. The UN acknowledges this:

“Minorities all over the world are facing persecution. The situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar is especially deplorable because they face the risk of a genocide,” Indira Jaising, heading the UN mission, told Al Jazeera by telephone.

Awareness of their lot must be made public, and these facts must repeated over and over again. World Refugee Day was on June 20th. We must do better than merely recognizing their pain. The Rohingya are suffering, and their fate stands on the edge of a knife. A moment, a volatile impulse by the government, and they could be wiped away. We must do more, do better, and do it soon.

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