Refugee Rights: Rohingya
Who are the Rohingya?
Country of origin: Burma, Arakan
Countries of residence: Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia, China, UAE, Saudi Arabia
Total population: approx 1.5 million in Burma, approx 200,000 in Bangladesh
Population in UK: approx. 300,000
Language: Rohingyan, Bengali, Arakanese
The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted communities in the world. Although, they have been living in the state of Arakan since the 8th century (which is now part of Burma), the Rohingyas have been under extreme scrutiny by the Burmese government. They haven't been recognised as citizens of The Union of Burma since the 1962 coup d'etat by General Ne Win. After decades of oppression and marginalisation, the passing of the 1982 Citizenship Law deemed them officially stateless.
8th century: Dated Rohingya ancestry in Arakan
1799: A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in Burma Empire published by Francis Buchanan- The first historical document mentioning the Rooinga or today’s Rohingya.
1947: Constitution of the Union of Burma is proclaimed with some of Burma’s first citizenship laws. The Rohingya vote in the 1st Constituent Assembly Elections.
1948: Independent Union of Burma is created.
1959: Rohingya recognised as race with equal rights, by Prime Minister U Ba Sue.
1962: General Ne Win overthrows U Nu government in a military coup.
1978: Operation Naga Min was launched, Rohingya targeted and massacred; 250,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh
1982: Burma Citizenship Law enacted, no longer recognized Rohingya as citizens; 800,000 Rohingya left stateless
1982 onwards: Rohingya subjected to abuse, forced labour, harassment, rape, arbitrary land seizure, destruction of property
**2012: 2 waves of violence erupted between the Rohingya and Rakhine in Arakan, devastating both community resulting in mass killings and torture, 135,000 Rohingya displaced whom now live in IDP camps in the Sittwe township.
WARNING: There are distressing images in the film.
Why are they in trouble?
Human rights abuses against the Rohingya have been entrenched into the social, political and economic systems of Burma or Myanmar for decades. Pushed to the margins of society, they are:
- Restricted in their movement
- Required to attain permission to marry from the NaSaKa (Arakan border force)- failure to do so will result in arrest
- Denied the right to work
- Denied education
- Denied freedom to practice their religion and cultural customs
This is simply because the Rohingya- as one of the many ethnic minority groups in Burma, are different in:
- Race (Rohingya are darker in appearance to the majority Burmese, with different physical and facial features.
- Their language
- Their faith (Rohingya community follow religion of Islam)
- Their traditions and culture
As a result of these difference which many racist claims claim makes them not Burmese, but in fact Bangladeshi, the Rohingya are subjected to living as ‘non- citizens’ in their own homeland.
Situation in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, the Rohingyas are faced with hardly any protection from their host country. A burden to the densely populated country, the Rohingyas are living a harsh life in refugee camps, struggling from malnourishment, isolation, illiteracy and neglect. There is one registered camp situated meters away from the unregistered camp where 90,000 refugees live. There is also another camp 15 miles away in Leda Bazaar, where approximately 25,000 Rohingya live.
Similar to the Rohingyas living in Burma, the Rohingya refugees are limited in their movement and often subject to exploitation. In refugee camps, the Rohingya women are victims of sexual violence, children are denied education and there is limited access to health and medical aid. The hostile environment for Rohingyas in Bangladesh urges the refugees in Bangladesh and Burma to seek help in other parts of Asia such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia; however, these parts are not usually welcoming or like Bangladesh, do not have the resources to house another community. It is Burma's duty to accept the Rohingya as citizens, accept their history and ensure the safe repatriation of each and every single member of the community back into Arakan. Although safer then being persecuted and killed in Burma, the Rohingya community in Bangladesh are a stateless community who want to return to Arakan when it is safe to call it home.
Restless Beings aims to champion the rights of the Rohingya community via an international campaign, and work towards encouraging the Burmese government to grant the Rohingya citizenship that is rightly owed to them. We also aim to help facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya from the IDP camps back to their homes in Arakan and repatriate Rohingya refugees living in host countries back into Burma.
What have we done so far?
Since the launch of our Stateless Rohingya Project, we have been working towards making consistent change to reach our end goal.
In Bangladesh, Leda Bazaar is ‘temporarily’ home to 90,000 Rohingya refugees in the registered camp and another 25,000 in an unregistered camp. In 2009 and 2010 Restless Beings visited these camps and met the Rohingya refugees living in dire conditions. We monitored the lack of access to education and employment and we are continually finding ways in which they can be supported.
Restless Beings had also established relationships with the Rohingya diaspora living in the UK and other countries and learnt about the Rohingya culture, heritage and also about their own personal plight. Through this, we have worked together on many occasions to champion the rights of the Rohingya community.
In 2012, the ethnic strife in Arakan between the Rakhine and Rohingya devastated both communities after two bouts of violence broke out in June and October; Restless Beings responded to this matter in a number of ways with immediate effect from protests and petitions to facilitating updates (photos and footage) to the likes of Channel 4, BBC and Al Jazeera. We had compiled our own report from what we had received from our sources in Arakan.
Protests and Petitions:
In response to the outbreak of violence in June and outraged by the lack of support from the international community, we had launched our own campaign to voice the Rohingya. We first held a protest outside the Bangladeshi embassy in London and handed in our petition signed and supported by 2462 people.
During the Olympics a peaceful protest was held to raise awareness for the barbaric human rights abuses and state sponsored ethnic cleansing being inflicted upon the Rohingya communities by the Burmese government.
After the second wave of violence in October we had launched our second campaign, ‘Global Day of Action’; A petition signed by 11,112 people from all over the globe to urge the UK government to take action and to stop defending the Burmese government for allowing the massacre to continue; this was followed by worldwide simultaneous protests, held on the same day to raise awareness injustice inflicted on the Rohingya.
Our stateless Rohingya project is predominantly about raising awareness of decades long abuse against a community that rightfully deserve citizenship in their own homeland. It is essential that the rights of the Rohingya are recognised internationally and we need your support to continue to ensure that it is. You can read the latest updates from Arakan on our website and also our Twitter and Facebook accounts.