Ethnic cleansing in Buddhist Myanmar

MARY DANIELS

Around 436,000 Rohingya Muslims found themselves fleeing to Bangladesh this year due to being targets of a military campaign in their home country of Myanmar.
The BBC has reported that on Aug. 25 conflict broke out between Rohingya militants and Myanmar’s military. The military claims the militants instigated the fight by attacking a police post. However, Rohingya refugees claim the military has been burning down their villages and shooting at them for months.

The Rohingya are a minority in the mostly Buddhist state of Myanmar. The conflict between the Rohingya and the Buddhist Myanmar residents dates back to Myanmar’s 1962 military coup. The military used the Buddhist religion to validate their right to rule and deemed the Rohingyas foreigners. The Rohingya were then persecuted for their ethnicity and never granted citizenship. The UK’s Independent reports that the 1982 Citizenship Law “not only excluded the Rohingya from attaining citizenship but also [denied] them the right to live in Myanmar unless they had solid evidence to show their ancestors lived there prior to independence—even though such citizenship documents for most communities are impossible to obtain”. The Rohingya have been living as ‘illegal’ immigrants in their own country for decades.

Throughout the years, the conflict between the Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine has turned violent on several occasions. In 2012, riots broke out between Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya. The riots resulted in over 125,000 Rohingya Muslims being displaced and 400 dead. The UN reported in 2014 that “more than 40 Rohingya men, women and children were killed in Rakhine state in violence that flared after accusations that Rohingyas killed a Rakhine policeman.” Earlier this year, the UN also reported that over 1,000 Rohingya were killed after a military crackdown. Many more are fleeing for safety after the Aug. 25 conflict prompted the military to start targeting Rohingya villages in Myanmar.

The Myanmar Government is now facing accusations of war crimes from the UN, and neighboring countries are stepping up to help the Rohingya. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and more are currently hosting refugees. Bangladesh has announced plans to create a refugee camp for the Rohingya migrants but is still requesting more aid from the international community. The UN reported “according to the IOM-hosted Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) of aid agencies, an estimated 536,000 people have fled Myanmar and arrived in Cox’s Bazar over the past 47 days.” As the numbers increase, Bangladesh finds itself scrambling to get the resources needed to help all of the refugees.

Many have looked to Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to find out how the government plans to address the Rohingya problem. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has defended the government by saying, “we make sure that all the people in our country are entitled to protection of their rights as well as, the right to, and not just political but social and humanitarian defense.” She denies that any ethnic cleansing is taking place and blames the media for blowing the issue out of proportion. However, the country’s Rohingya population continues to migrate out of the country in fear of their lives.

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