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  • Human Rights Research Center

The Ongoing Crisis Facing the Rohingya

June 11, 2024


The world first became aware of the impending genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, in 2017. While the unfolding tragedy initially gained international attention as the crisis persisted, the notice it received faded steadily. Today, well over one million people have fled Myanmar, many heading to neighboring Bangladesh due to what has been labeled a genocide by United Nations investigators and countries around the world, including the United States, who did so in March 2022. The international designation of the crime against the Rohingya as a genocide illustrates the significance of the horrors faced by people targeted solely for their religious beliefs. The Rohingya have been abandoned by Myanmar, forced into unsanitary and deadly refugee camps, particularly in the area of Cox’s Bazar, faced violence in Indonesia, and largely ignored by the rest of the world. The question facing the Rohingya is not when nations will step forward and offer assistance, but why they have not already done so, and what is to become of the lost generation of children whose lives have only been an existence of fear and brutality. Although the world faces a series of threats across the globe, the suffering of the Rohingya can no longer remain in the shadows.


While Rohingya families had begun fleeing Myanmar prior to 2017, that year marked a pivotal shift in the violence against the Muslim minority. In 2017, hundreds of thousands streamed into Bangladesh to escape a military onslaught. Many have spoken of extreme violence at the hands of the army and its civilian allies beginning in August of 2017, with reported atrocities including murder, rape and the destruction and razing of hundreds of villages, with no one yet held accountable for the crimes. In a matter of weeks, hundreds of thousands of people fled for the safety of Cox’s Bazar, a coastal town in Bangladesh, which now hosts the Kutupalong refugee camp. Nearly one million people live in this camp, making it the world’s most densely populated refugee camp, as people exist in tents with barely adequate food, water, or medical supplies. Within one year of the initial exodus out of Myanmar and into Bangladesh, the camp had a population density one and a half times larger than the world’s most densely populated city. In the words of Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the situation in Cox’s Bazar can be described in this manner:


"This is equivalent to 75 families living in an Olympic-size swimming pool. This is grossly inadequate and completely undignified. But is particularly difficult given that this crisis is so protracted, and that these camps are so exposed to monsoon rain and tropical storms.”


Myanmar is largely a Buddhist nation, and while the country recognizes 135 ethnic minorities, the Rohingya are the only who have been stripped of their citizenship. Military commanders seized control of the Myanmar government in 2021, exacerbating the frenzy of violence and repression that had been unleashed upon the Rohingya. The country is currently under the leadership of Min Aung Hlaing, a Burmese army general and his government, the Tatmadaw. The flow of refugees into Bangladesh has placed a remarkable strain upon that tiny nation, but a 2024 Joint Response Plan is underway to assist those desperately in need. Reduced to stateless status, ReliefWeb reports that the 2024 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis is being launched under the leadership of the Bangladeshi authorities. The funding appeal seeks $852.4 million to reach some 1.35 million people including Rohingya refugees and host communities. The greatest threat to the Rohingya is global silence, and that is most distressing when one analyzes the lack of action coming from the United Nations.


The UN hosted a meeting on the Rohingya genocide on April 4, 2024, marking the first time the council had hosted an open meeting about this tragedy in over five years. However, no decisions were made or actions taken to remedy the violence against the Rohingya. The lack of a meaningful response to the crisis will only result in continued loss of life. In a May 2024 article, the Associated Press reported on the capsizing of a boat bringing Rohingya refugees to Indonesia. Survivors spoke of the rape and physical abuse of young girls by the captain and crew of the vessel. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 569 Rohingya were reported to have died or gone missing in South-East Asian waters in 2023, with nearly 4,500 attempting to flee to safety through increasingly dangerous and deadly trips. As Rohingya flee for their lives, Myanmar continues to spiral downwards into violent chaos. In November, fighting emerged again between the Myanmar military government and the Arakan Army, a Buddhist military movement attempting to create an independent Rakhine State, which contrasts the traditional peaceful approach to conflict embodied by Buddhist beliefs. There are new reports emerging that the Rohingya are being forcibly conscripted by the Myanmar government to fight for the junta against their own people. Recruitment into the military is expected of citizens of Myanmar, but the Rohingya have long been considered stateless within their own land, so the actions of the Myanmar government violate international law. However, even as reports of these crimes are published, the global taciturnity continues.


While hundreds of thousands of Rohingya struggle to survive in dangerously overcrowded conditions in Bangladesh, far smaller numbers have found refuge in Indonesia, but that nation has witnessed recent violence against those escaping attacks and degradation in Myanmar. On December 27, 2023, more than 100 students broke through police lines and stormed a car park in the city of Banda Aceh, where 137 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, had been temporarily placed. The students verbally and physically assaulted the refugees, then forced them onto trucks which transported the refugees to the government office responsible for immigration where the students demanded the refugees be deported. The students chanted phrases like “kick them out” while the refugees cried and searched for safety. Elsewhere in Aceh province, residents have tried to prevent Rohingya boats from reaching the shore and surrounded the tents of Rohingya on beaches and other temporary locations and demanded that they be relocated. Rohingya refugees continue to search for asylum, but have faced repression in Thailand, where they have remained stateless people and have been forced into human trafficking, and Malaysia. In February of this year, Malaysian immigration services searched for dozens of Rohingya men who escaped a holding center in the Northern region of the nation. The Rohingya in Malaysia live in constant fear of deportation, as they are considered “illegal migrants” who can be forced out of Malaysia without warning or any judicial reprieve. In April six Rohingya were killed in Malaysia when they, along with hundreds of others, attempted to flee a “detention center”.


It is obvious that international peace organizations and individual nations have failed the Rohingya. Bangladesh discussed plans to repatriate Rohingya to Myanmar, but this was met by firm criticism from organizations such as Human Rights Watch that demanded the suspension of any return of Rohingya to Myanmar, as the group would face immediate risks to their safety. In response to widespread concern for the lives of the Rohingya in Myanmar, along with the growing economic and humanitarian concerns for Bangladesh, the government of that nation declared in February that Bangladesh will no longer accept Rohingya refugees. Without greater international support and aid to the nations that have and will continue to allow Rohingya into their borders, the genocide will continue unabated with the group facing attacks both within their own nation and the lands to which they are fleeing for safe haven. Without international resolve, the Rohingya will continue to be the victims of an atrocity occurring in real time, and the legacy of this crime will be once again, the failure of the world to embrace the significance of the phrase, “never again”.


 

Glossary


  • Atrocity: A cruel, shocking moment or event.

  • Conscripted: Enrolled into service by compulsion.

  • Genocide: The deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.

  • Junta: A military or political group that rules a country after taking power by force.

  • Razing: To destroy completely by knocking down or breaking to pieces.

  • Refugee: People forced to flee their country with the hopes of finding safety in another.

  • Repatriation: The return of a person to their own country.

  • Stateless: A person not recognized as a citizen of any country.

  • Taciturnity: A trait of being uncommunicative.

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