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From the Blog
Burma: The ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas
According to various news reports, a campaign ofÂ systematic ethnic cleansing of Rohingya MuslimsÂ began in Myanmar (Burma) on June 3rd. It was reportedÂ that ethnic âRakhineâ Buddhists began a largescaleÂ campaign of murder, arson and rape against theÂ native Rohingya population. The Rohingyas, who areÂ all Muslims, have been fleeing to Bangladesh in theÂ hundreds of thousands. Currently, Bangladesh hasÂ over 300,000 displaced Rohingyas. With no runningÂ water, electricity, or proper sanitation, the RohingyasÂ temporarily live in squalid refugee camps.Â The Bangladesh government and the UnitedÂ Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)Â recognize only a limited number of refugees withinÂ the camps, while Bangladesh refuses to take anyÂ more refugees and is reported to have turned awayÂ many boatloads. According to Al-Jazeera, BangladeshâsÂ Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina is reportedly toÂ have said that the refugees were not the BangladeshâsÂ responsibility.
The Origins of the RohingyasÂ In the region of the Rakhine in Burma, there areÂ two groups: the Rohingya, who are Muslims, and theÂ Rakhaing, who are Buddhists. The conflict lies in theÂ claim by Buddhists that the Rohingyas are interlopers,Â not original inhabitants of the region, in spite ofÂ the fact that Rohingyas trace their ancestry in BurmaÂ to at least eight hundred years back. Buddhists baseÂ their claims on the assumption that the Indo-BengaliÂ characteristics of the Rohingyas point to their originsÂ in the Indo-Bengal regions.
Proponents argue that Rohingyas are an indigenousÂ people of the Burmese state whose ancestorsÂ embraced Islam after Arab travelers shipwrecked atÂ a place called âAkyab.â According to Rohingya history,Â Arab traders shipwrecked around the 8th centuryÂ C.E. and the Arakanese king at the time ordered theÂ shipwrecked executed. The traders then shoutedÂ in Arabic, âRahma!â (Mercy!). From that time on,Â they were called âRahamâ. The name evolved intoÂ Rhohang and finally became Rohingyas. After thisÂ incident, Islam was accepted by the natives andÂ many converted to the new faith. The Burmese state,Â however, refuses to recognize the Rohingyas as lawfulÂ citizens, leaving the people without any form ofÂ identification.
In a 2002 report done by Shan Womenâs ActionÂ Network, 83% of documented rapes committedÂ against the Rohingyas were done by thugs with ties toÂ the Burmese military. The statistics only cover rapesÂ that were reported. Most incidents are never reportedÂ due to death threats and intimidation. Recently, theÂ Burmese government declared a state of emergencyÂ in the Rakhine region and this led to the implementationÂ of martial law.
Forgotten MassacresÂ Reports that cannot be verified by InFocus claimÂ that the Rakhaing, along with the Burmese soldiers,Â are entering into villages with populations rangingÂ from 10,000 to 20,000 people and committingÂ extensive atrocities. There is a general sense of lackÂ of awareness about the plight of the Rohingyas due toÂ many reasons.
The Rakhine state is marked as âred territory,â andÂ Rohingyas proponents claim that government forcesÂ do not allow aid to reach Muslims but that the RakhaingÂ are allowed to move freely.Â Most of the Rohingyas lack Â identification becauseÂ they are not recognized by the government, whichÂ means Rohingya deaths usually go unreported andÂ unrecorded.Â Rohingyas claim that there is a deeply embeddedÂ racism in the primarily Buddhist Burmese nationÂ towards Muslims, which means that most BurmeseÂ citizens do not acknowledge the legitimate claims ofÂ injustice done to the Rohingyas.Â Within Myanmar, the Rohingyas are identifiedÂ as âinternally displaced citizens.â According to theÂ Democratic Voice of Burma, Myanmar presidentÂ Thein Sein stated that the government is prepared toÂ hand over the Rohingyas to the UNHCR and have itÂ resettle the ethnic group in any third country âthat isÂ willing to take them.â
Many Rohingyas hoped democratic icon AungÂ Sung Su Kyi would win a place in parliament andÂ stand up for Myanmarâs oppressed ethnic minoritiesÂ like the Rohingyas. However, their hopes wereÂ dashed. According to The Nation, Su Kyi was askedÂ about the citizenship status of the Rohingyas duringÂ her recent Europe tour. Her response was, âI donâtÂ know. We have to be very clear about what the lawsÂ of citizenship are and who are entitled to them.â