OPINIONS: Rohingya Crisis: One of the World’s Largest Ethnic Genocides, Goes Unnoticed
Risking death by sea or on foot, nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled persecution, alongside the destruction of their homes, in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar. Since August 2017, they have been seeking safety in for neighboring Bangladesh. Over half of those fleeing are children. Why aren’t we talking about this?
The Rohingya have been described as the “world’s most persecuted minority” (Al Jazeera). Majority Muslim, they are a stateless ethnic group that has have lived in the Buddhist nation of Myanmar for centuries. The Rohingya trace their origins in the region to the fifteenth century, when thousands of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom.
Since gaining independence in 1948, successive governments in Burma (what is now Myanmar) have vehemently refuted the Rohingya’s claims and continue to deny the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. This may be because the Rohingya differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically, and religiously.
As a result, the Myanmar government has effectively institutionalized discriminatory restrictions on marriage, family planning, education, religion, and employment on the Rohingya population. In 2014, the government even erased the ethnic minority from the 2014 national census.
The crisis reached a new level when the recent exodus broke out in 2017 , after a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army claimed responsibility for attacks on army and police posts. However, most coverage of this crisis has gone dim since the attacks — a troubling predicament for “the world's fastest growing humanitarian crisis” that, according to Doctors Without Borders, has killed 6,700 Rohingya during just the first months.
Recent reports suggest that the Myanmar army is continuing their militarized efforts against "insurgent militants" in Rakhine State. Refugees confirm these operations which involve burning down villages, killing women and children in their path.
For those fleeing, the chances of returning to their birth country is a death wish.
The Rohingya have been met with a weak response from the UN. Although various UN agencies and NGOs have been at the forefront of providing humanitarian aid for the displaced Rohingya, these NGOs have struggled to sustain these efforts.
Several successive years of violence from neighboring Buddhist populations makes it increasingly difficult to maintain densely populated refugee camps in Bangladesh. Simply put, these humanitarian bodies cannot defend against national armies.
Another seemingly obvious question arises: why hasn’t any major world power taken charge? Back in 2017, Trump pledged US support to end violence in Myanmar at the East Asia Summit, but as expected, this was only an empty promise from the President, as he boasted that he “had accomplished a lot” and he “made a lot of great friends” during the Summit. Instead, the United States has not fully enforced the Myanmar sanctions initially promised, according to The Washington Post.
But this is not just an American issue. Other major powers like the UN and Europe have become weakened and more divided, hoping that the issue resolves itself.
Without major powers intervening, it looks like the Rohingya will not find a home anytime soon. The Bangladeshi government may be building new refugee camps for the refugees, but only with the hope that they will eventually return to Myanmar. Whichever way these refugees turn, they are at the mercy of governments who deny them legal status and, like the major world powers, wait for an impossible resolution to happen.