Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group that migrated into the Myanmar state of Arakan (now known as Rakhine) since the 1600’s. This migration period was at its height when Myanmar (then known as Burma) was part of the British Empire.
However, in 1948 Burma became independent, and the Rohingya found themselves an unrecognised people in a predominantly Buddhist country. Today, under Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘democratic’ government, the Rohingya remain a stateless, persecuted people.
The Rohingya are forced into camps and isolated villages with strict restrictions placed on their daily lives. These restrictions make it near impossible to travel, access education or seek medical assistance, nor can they partake in elements of public life, such as voting.
Attacks by militant Buddhists and the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) are frequent, and many Rohingya attempt to flee across the Naf River into Bangladesh. Once there, Rohingya are placed in squalid refugee camps where they receive little or no help from the UN or NGOs.
In 2016 Ali MC visited Rohingya refugee and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Myanmar and Bangladesh. In Myanmar, restrictions are placed on the movement of foreigners – especially journalists and photographers – within Rakhine State. In Bangladesh Ali MC was detained and questioned by the army as to my presence in the area.
Since that time, brutal attacks against Rohingya people have been carried out by the Myanmar Army. Around 200 000 Rohingya people have fled into Bangladesh, near the town of Teknaf. Rohingya villages have been burnt down, and reports of atrocities such as rape and beheadings are being heard. Landmines are now reported as being used by the Myanmar Army against Rohingya refugees attempting to cross into Bangladesh.
However, the Maynmar government – led by Nobel Peace Prize awardee Aung San Suu Kyi – refuses to acknowledge the violence. Rohingya are known as ‘Bengali’, and despite having lived in the area for centuries, are viewed by the predominantly Buddhist society as illegal immigrants.
How this human rights crisis will end is uncertain; however, what is certain is that the ongoing attacks on Rohingya people amount to crimes against humanity.
About the author:
Ali MC is a writer, independent photographer and human rights advocate based in Melbourne, Australia.