Who are the Rohingya? What you should know about Myanmar’s deepening crisis

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (Burma) have endured decades of persecution. But little compares to what they face amid a new wave of violence in the Buddhist-majority country. Some 370,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh.


The Rohingya are one of the largest groups of stateless people in the world. An estimated 1 million to 1.2 million live in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, where they make up about a third of the population.

Although many Rohingya have lived in Rakhine for generations, the Myanmar government considers them to have come illegally from Bangladesh. Myanmar has used a 1982 citizenship law to deny most Rohingya citizenship, making them stateless. Today, they are deprived of many civil rights and economic opportunities.

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The Rohingya have lived under apartheid-like conditions ever since. Government policies and practices restrict their freedom of movement, often putting health care and education out of reach. There are even legal restrictions on their right to marry and the number of children they can have. With little hope of making a life for themselves in Myanmar, many have fled to Bangladesh.


On Aug. 25, a Rohingya insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked police posts and an Army base in northern Rakhine, killing at least 12 members of security forces. The attacks prompted the Myanmar military to retaliate with what it called “clearance operations” to root out “extremist terrorists.” The military said on Sept. 1 that nearly 400 people – mostly insurgents – had been killed.

Reports have since surfaced of the military torching entire Rohingya villages with helicopters and petrol bombs. Satellite images obtained by Human Rights Watch show that well over 1,000 buildings in villages across northern Rakhine have been burned.

The violence has triggered an exodus of Rohingya into already overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh. Many brought with them stories of extrajudicial killings, rape, and other atrocities. On Sept. 11, the top human rights official for the United Nations said the Rohingya were facing what “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

“The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingya are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in Geneva.


Aung San Suu Kyi, the…

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