If you’re like me, you probably heard the word “Rohingya” for the first time a few weeks ago. This Southeast Asian ethnic minority never planned on becoming the focus of the international world, but when you’ve become the victim in a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing,” it’s hard not to occupy the global spotlight. This article is by no means intended to be a comprehensive analysis of an increasingly difficult and complicated situation, but rather a helpful starting point in understanding this tragedy.
Who the Rohingya are depends on who you ask. If you speak to one of the 370,0001 Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar, they are an ethnic/religious minority that’s endured enough persecution for several lifetimes. In the eyes of the Myanmar government, which protests their very existence, the Rohingya are“Bengali and entered what is now Myanmar during the time of the British Empire or later as illegal immigrants after Bangladesh’s war for independence in 1971.” In the simplest and least political of terms, this is a large group of people who haven’t had much of a home for the last 45 years, due to the hatred and violence inflicted upon this primarily Muslim minority by the Buddhist-dominated government of Myanmar.
Tensions between the Rohingya and the government of Myanmar came to a boiling point on August 25th of this year when a small group of militant Rohingya known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) lashed out. This group attacked several police outposts and a military base, and killed twelve Myanmar soldiers. Since that skirmish , the Myanmar military has retaliated; they have killed 370 militants and brutally murdered hundreds of innocent civilians, forcing nearly 400,000 Rohingya to flee to the nearby countries of Bangladesh and India. This ethnic cleansing has also intensified the pressure on these two countries to support an enormous and ever-growing influx of refugees as they flee for their lives from the place they once called home. India plans to start deporting Rohingya they say they cannot support, hearing a Supreme Court case on October 3rd of this year, and calling them a “threat to national security.”
One of the most vital aspects in understanding the Rohingya crisis is the criticism of the international community directed at Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s received intense international backlash for not immediately condemning the Myanmar military’s violence against the Rohingya. Her supporters say she has little control over the matter, as the government and the military are separately governed entities in Myanmar. Critics say that despite her inability to forcibly stop the slaughter, her lack of condemnation evidences that she has lost sight of the values she fought so bravely for in her country’s peaceful struggle for democracy. She even garnered criticism from her friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who wrote, “My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Rohingya people, and their future. As members of the international community, we all should be staying updated and informed on the status of the Rohingya and other difficult crises around the world.
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