The Rohingya people is an ethnic group that have lived in Myanmar, formerly Burma, for over a millennia. Probably far longer as far as we can tell. They are Muslim, although we have no idea when Islam came to them and they probably originated in India. Because they are Muslim and because they are darker than most Burmese, they have been persecuted, brutalized, marginalized, isolated, and subjected to genocide for decades. Some people, organizations, and countries don’t accept that genocide applies to the Rohingya, yet every day they are killed by the army or police in Rakhine State where they live, their homes are burnt down, their tools destroyed. Many are tortured, raped and sold into slavery in Thailand or Bangladesh. Rohingya women are often sold into marriage in an attempt to save them from these fates, only to find themselves sex slaves or slave labor.
According to Rohingyas and some scholars, they are indigenous to Rakhine State, while other historians claim that they migrated to Myanmar from Bengal primarily during the period of British rule in Burma, and to a lesser extent, following Burmese independence in 1948 and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Even though most adult Rohingya have memories their grandparents in Rakhine.
After the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1826, the British annexed Arakan and encouraged migrations from Bengal to work as farm laborers. The Muslim population may have constituted 5% of Arakan’s population by 1869, although estimates for earlier years give higher numbers. Successive British censuses of 1872 and 1911 recorded an increase in Muslim population from 58,255 to 178,647 in Akyab District. During World War II, the Arakan massacres in 1942 involved communal violence between British-armed V Force Rohingya recruits and Buddhist Rakhine people and the region became increasingly ethnically polarized.
In 1982, General Ne Win’s government enacted the Burmese nationality law, which denied Rohingya citizenship. Since the 1990s, the term “Rohingya” has increased in usage among Rohingya communities, because the ruling party refused to say the name.
As of 2013, about 1.3 million Rohingyas live in Myanmar. They reside mainly in the northern Rakhine townships, where they form 80–98% of the population. International media and human rights organizations have often described Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted of minorities in the world, while the origin of that term with relation to the United Nations is still unclear.
Many Rohingyas have fled to ghettos and refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh and to areas along the border with Thailand. More than 100,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar continue to live in camps for internally displaced persons, not allowed by authorities to leave. Rohingyas have received international attention because of their attempted migration throughout Southeast Asia. There are few reports around the world of the violence, slavery and other horrors they suffer. The English speaking press pronounces their name wrongly, with a soft G rather than a hard one.
The Rohingya are a peaceful people. Muslims in many other countries want them to take up violence in retaliation, but even if they were so minded what energy would they have, what ability to buy weapons? They are so watched, so malnourished that their choice of peace is the most sensible and least harmful one.
In the last two months violence, rape, brutality and murder have escalated against the Rohingya. Their homes are being burnt by the Burmese Army. Yet the media in Burma report that the Rohingya are burning their own homes. On Twitter we have reports from Rohingya about these events and their trauma. Harvard University calls this a genocide, as many of us have for years.
Suu Kyi remains silent, although she has asked the international Community to remain silent so that ‘peace can be negotiated’.
Myanmar has annual monsoons,but the Rohingya don’t get any state aid. Instead, they are made slave labor to rebuild for the non-Rohingya population.
The Rohingya are stateless. They are declared to be migrants from Bangladesh and now they will be granted citizenship if they declare themselves to be Bangladeshi. Some do, and no one can blame them. Even the arrival of Aung San Siu Khi in government has not helped them. The Peace Laureate who was so articulate under house arrest for human rights, free speech, and self-determination has been deafeningly silent on the Rohingya. She has referred to them only as ‘those people’ or ‘they’ in terms of a problem that must be dealt with.
This photo appeared in the Washington Times on May 1, 2015 but the world is still mostly silent. The Rohingya depend on aid, but that aid does not get through when the authorities deceive NGOs. Last year the tweets asking for rice were heartbreaking. I tweeted NGOs so often to say they had been deceived. As did many others.
I have a Rohingya friend in Germany. Her family escaped when she was two, trafficked to Bangladesh where they worked until they could afford plane tickets to Switzerland. Her family can no longer send food packages to relatives still in Myanmar and the parcels are confiscated. My friend is a neurosurgeon and campaigns for the freedom and citizenship of the Rohingya.
Chrissie Morris Brady lives on the south coast of England. She lived in Los Angeles for several years, studying at USC, and working with recovering addicts. Chrissie has been published in various journals and poetry publications on the Internet.