The Rohingyas first caught the international media’s attention in 2012 when riots perpetuated against them by the Buddhist of Arakan state of Myanmar broke out. But the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar have a long story to tell of their persecution which is still continuing. Recently dubbed as the “boat people” by various media groups, the Rohingyas fleeing violence and poverty in Myanmar have been caught up between the refugee camps of neighbouring countries of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and traffickers who abandon them at sea.
The most recent census in Myanmar registered them as Bengalis and not Rohingya i.e. a native of Arakan state. The Myanmar government claims that they are illegal Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh, a view supported by the majority Buddhist population of the country. As ‘‘illegal immigrants’’ they are denied citizenship in the country apart from basic amenities and educational opportunities, thus depriving them of any opportunity to improve their life which is mostly spent in destitution.
Contrary to the government’s stand, the Rohingyas have a long history with the land. The region saw the first Muslim settlements in 15th century A.D. during the reign of the king Min Saw Mon. The area saw large immigration of Muslims from Bengal during the British rule as the colonialists hired them to work as farmers. The World War II years witnessed degeneration in the relationship between the Rohingya and the Buddhist population of Arakan as riots broke out between them as a result of the anarchic situation created when the British deserted the area in the fear of a Japanese invasion. In the later phase of the war, the British formed V force comprising of Rohingya recruits targeted Buddhist establishments and population which further deteriorated the situation between the two groups. The post war period saw the rise of a movement demanding an autonomous state for the Rohingya in Arakan which was suppressed by the military rule of General Ne Win. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 brought in influx of Bengali refugees in the country which after the United Nation’s pressure were allowed settlement by the Myanmar government.
Their recent immigration to Southeast Asian countries via sea is an attempt of the Rohingyas to flee persecution by the Myanmar government and search for a better life. The distressed community has been a target of human trafficking groups who sell them as cheap labourers in countries like Malaysia and Thailand. To escape the recent crackdown by the Thai government on human trafficking, many of these traffickers abandoned the fleeing Rohingyas at sea. Though the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian government have granted asylum to these refugees, it was only under international pressure. The fate of the Rohingyas lies in uncertainty and any hopes of improvement in their situation seem bleak till the government of Myanmar fails to recognize its minority’s rights.