Exclusion and discrimination are often experienced by ethnic minorities in regions of conflict, however it’s not uncommon for these radical ideologies to develop into ethnic cleansing. Since the 1970s, Muslim Rohingya have been forced to leave their homes in Myanmar due to the increase of unfair policies.
Rohingya Muslims are different from the Buddhist majority population in terms of their ethnicity, languages spoken as well as based on their opposing religions. It was approximated that 1 million Rohingya inhabited that Rakhine State prior to August 2017, of which they comprised of almost 1/3 of the populace.
Myanmar has silenced and repressed the Rohingya, stripping them of their rights. The Burmese government have refused to recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group in Myanmar despite the Rohingya tracing their origins to country.
Rohingya were denied citizenship in 1982 by the Burmese government. The implications of this, however, are profound. It leaves many members of the Rohingya population in absence of legal documentation. The consequence of this means that the Rohingya are left stateless.
Stateless individuals, such as the Rohingya, do not have any nationality by any State. However, in this case, Rohingya lack a nationality as a result of the decades of discriminatory laws implemented by the Burmese government against the ethnic minority. Statelessness has further implications, these might include lacking access to employment, education and independence of movement.
The Citizenship laws mean that Rohingya are classified as resident foreigners and therefore have a variety of freedoms denied. Rohingya have movement restrictions imposed upon them by the government. If they decide to travel overseas, within the country or within the Rakhine State, Rohingya are required to secure travel permits. The local Peace and Development Council chairman for the individual can provide them with this travel permit which would grant them access to travel to different places within Myanmar and overseas according to the 1940 Registration of Foreigners Act and Rules. If arriving or departing a particular region, individuals must show this permit to authorities.
Compounding these restrictions on movements are also the lack of access to education. Since the Rohingya are not citizens of Myanmar, they are denied secondary level education provided by schools run by the state and only have primary level education. The Burmese government does provide secondary level education to state citizens. Citizens of the state in Myanmar also have the luxury of being able to take positions in the civil service sector. They are permitted to have positions such as a health care worker, working in local government or being a teacher. These job opportunities are denied to the Rohingya population.
Local authorities in government have made Rohingya undertake forced labor duties with physical punishment being the consequence if these requests are refused. These are just a few of many of the Human rights violations occurring. Many of these laws which are based on the exclusion of the ethnic minority violate the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Further restrictions on family planning and marriage also occur. In the northern regions, Rohingya in the towns of Buthidaung and Maungdaw are only permitted to have two children. In regards to marriage, Rohingya couples would need to pay off authorities in order to married.
Furthermore, the Rakhine State lacks adequate infrastructure and employment prospects which has furthered the divided between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists. The Rakhine State is in one of the poorest regions of the country with a 78% poverty rate, this is almost double the national average (37.5%).
The decades of policies aimed at excluding Rohingya from Myanmar exemplify some similarities with Nazi Germany’s policies under Hitler’s rule, especially when looking at the Reich citizenship law.
These radical policies are aimed at driving Rohingya out of Myanmar, paving the way for ethnic cleansing to occur. The military’s ethnic cleansing operations in the Rakhine State, which included crimes such as sexual assault and violence as well as committing massacres, have forced over 671,000 Rohingya Muslims to leave the country since August 2017, additionally, this outbreak of violence from the government, killed almost 7,000 Rohingya within a month from late August to late September 2017.
It has been reported that land mines have been placed by Burmese security forces along the northern border with Bangladesh of which Rohingya use to flee the conflict and violence.
Even if Rohingya are not injured as a result of the land mines, once they arrive in Bangladesh they may live in refugee camps which are cramped and lack sanitation. With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, because of the cramped spaces and lack of sanitation which contain a high population of people, COVID-19 could rapidly spread within the community. This is becoming increasingly worrying considering a Rohingya man was found to be positive for COVID-19 and another positive case came from a local man residing near the camp.
Many Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh and now live in refugee camps, however in the refugee camps, the Rohingya are deprived of telecommunication and internet by Bangladeshi authorities and therefore cannot reliably or promptly access information about the ongoing situation in regards to the pandemic.
I guess while stating the horrendous conditions of the refugee camps, as well as addressing all the discrimination the Rohingya have experienced prior to arriving in these camps, what we should really address is how we can create change.
I implore everyone reading this to sign a petition on the amnesty international website to support the plight of Rohingya refugees so children can access adequate education, so women can access legal support for sexual violence and that refugees can access information about the ongoing pandemic.
Another activity we all can do is to engage with the resources we have at our feet. To educate ourselves and spread awareness about the Rohingya crisis.