Strife In The Buddhist State
The Global Intelligence|Winter 2017

Rohingya Muslims are fleeing a violent campaign ethnic cleansing in Buddhist Myanmar.

Sazzad Haider

On the border regions of Myanmar, thousands of the minority Rohingya population are fleeing across the Naf river into Bangladesh to escape what UNHCR calls “ethnic cleansing”. In Myanmar, the Muslim Rohingya are denied citizenship by the Buddhist-majority state and face regular persecution from security forces. Those who have fled to Muslim-majority Bangladesh, however, are illegal immigrants. They are offered no asylum by the state, and many have been rounded up and deported back to Myanmar.

Since October, the Myanmar military has coordinated massive offensives against Rohingya villages in the border state of Rakhine, ostensibly in reprisal for the killing of nine border guards. Myanmar security forces have now allegedly killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, and burned down over 2,500 Rohingya houses, according to estimates from Rohingya sources. The military operation forced many of the Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes. The extent of the strife is not fully known, but U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five Rakhine villages.

The recent operation by the Myanmar military has displaced up to 250,000 people and affected thousands more. The situation is dire, according to John McKissick, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh:

“Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, and burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river illegally into Bangladesh.”

When the military dictator Ne Win took power in Myanmar (then Burma) in 1962, he stripped minorities of their constitutional rights, and banned all radio programs broadcasting in the Rohingya Bengali dialect. Twenty years later, in 1982, the Myanmar government introduced a citizenship act which withdrew the Rohingyas’ citizenship. According to the act, Rohingya were accorded “temporary registration” cards because they are not a recognized “National Race”. Since then, the Rohingyas have become stateless citizens despite the fact they have been settled in Myanmar for centuries.

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