Representing almost 1 million of Myanmar’s population, the Rohingya in the western coastal State of Rakhine are considered the most persecuted minority in the world. They are an ethnic Muslim group who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Southeast Asian country. According to many historians and Rohingya groups, Muslims have lived in the area now known as Myanmar since as early as the 12th century. Many of the Rohingya ancestors migrated from today’s India and Bangladesh to Myanmar in the 19th century during the British colonisation of the region.After gaining independence in 1948, the government of Myanmar (formerly Burma) viewed the migration that took place during British rule as illegal, and it is on that basis that the majority of Rohingya residents are denied citizenship status. Several laws were passed since then which badly affected the Rohingya. For example, in 1962 all residents of the country were required to obtain national registration cards, but the Rohingya were only given foreign identity cards, which limited the jobs and educational opportunities they could pursue and obtain. Also, in 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, which rendered the Rohingya stateless unless they prove that their families lived in Myanmar prior to 1948. It is almost impossible to get these documents because was they were either unavailable or denied to them.
According to the most recently available data from the United Nations in May, more than 168,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since 2012. More than half of this number (87,000) fled to Bangladesh from October 2016 to August 2017, according to the International Organisation for Migration. The UN statistics estimate that there are as many as 420,000 Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Additionally, there are around 120,000 internally displaced Rohingya. In November 2016, the UN accused Myanmar’s government of carrying out ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has called several times for immediate stop to the persecution of Rohingya and requested permits for its teams to enter the affected areas to support people and investigate the situation. However, those requests have always been rejected. In 2013 Hundreds of Buddhists marched through the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city to protest an arranged visit by OIC high-level delegation. The then Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said that “if the Islamic bloc wants to see stability restored to the state, it is better that the delegation not visit at all, but provide humanitarian assistance from outside.”
Despite the wide-spread criticism and condemnation, the State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi and her government have remained silent. They actually do not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group and always blame violence in Rakhine and subsequent military repression on those they call terrorists. Suu Kyi has come under fire in recent days for failing to speak out against the mass killings and displacement of Rohingya by her government, particularly given her previous image as a Nobel laureate and as a champion of human rights. Even her statement on “trying to protect all citizens in Rakhine state” was considered deceptive since her government does not recognise Rohingya as national citizens.