Return to Stories

Not welcome here - or anywhere



In recent years Burma, long a byword for political repression and brutal military rule, has emerged from its half century of isolation and become the playground of growing numbers of foreign tourists and companies from around the world sniffing opportunities in an untapped market. Yet while Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's iconic and much harassed opposition leader, is once again free to travel the world and sit in parliament, other injustices that have marred Burma's past still fester, unresolved. The national army is locked in dozens of localised conflicts with various ethnic minority groups along its border and in Rakhine State close to the Bangladesh border, around 140,000 ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has lived in Burma for generations, exist in squalid IDP camps, unable to access even the most basic healthcare and barred from leaving the camps, even for work. They are part of a population of around 750,000 Rohingya living in around the border region with Bangladesh, who have been called one of the most persecuted minorities in the world today. Much debate surrounds the history of this Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Burma. The Rohingya themselves insist that they are indigenous to the region but the Burmese authorities have consistently maintained that they migrated from Bengal (now Bangladesh) during British colonial rule and therefore don't quality as one of the country's 130 odd recognised ethnic groups. Their precarious status was enshrined in law with the 1982 Citizenship Law, enacted by the military government of the late Ne Win.



The easing of government restrictions have taken the lid off a simmering inter-communal strife that has plagued Rakhine State for decades. Inherent fears of a threat posed to Buddhist traditions by a Muslim population that is growing faster than the local Rakhine has been stoked by radical nationalist Buddhist groups such as the 969 Movement, led by firebrand monk Ashin Wirathu, who shrugs off criticism of his virulently anti-Muslim preaching by stating that

'you can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.' Tensions came to a head in 2012 following weeks of sectarian altercations. In two burst of rioting, around 170 people lost their lives and 100,000 Rohingya, were displaced from their homes following widespread burning and looting.



Following the riots, around 100,000 Rohingya, or most of the Muslim population of Sittwe, the run down regional capital, were moved to makeshift refugee camps, ostensibly for their own safety. Tens of thousands more fled to neighbouring Bangladesh or boarded boats to take them to Thailand and Malaysia. The camps remain virtual outdoor prisons for the Rohingya who lack most basic services and are barred from leaving the camps for any reason other than the most desperate emergencies.



Life became even more intolerable for the camp dwellers after the Burmese government expelled Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) from Rakhine State alleging the medical charity to have a pro-Rohingya bias. MSF had become the main health care provider in the refugee camps since the 2012 riots and its expulsion left tens of thousands of people

desperate and exposed to preventable diseases. Other NGOs have also been expelled from the region on spurious grounds.



As the Rohingya's situation has deteriorated, increasing numbers have taken the desperate step of fleeing their native country to escape the violence and misery. According to UNHCR, some 120,000 Rohingya have boarded ships to flee abroad in the past three years. Thousands of Rohingya have recently been appearing off the coasts of Thailand and Indonesia. In many instances the boats were simply towed back out to sea and left to their fate.



Most of the countries in the have made it clear that they are not prepared to take in the Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh pleads a lack of resources to take in large numbers of refugees while a regional meeting to discuss the crisis has foundered before it even convened after the Burmese government refused to attend any event that mentions the term Rohingya. Adam Dean has covered the Rohinya for a number of years.
powered by infradox.com