Who Are the Rohingya People?

Daniel Carvalheiro-Santos, Staff Writer

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You might have heard of the reported troubles the Rohingya people have suffered in the past couple months. The sad part of this is that this mistreatment of this minority in Myanmar has been occurring for many years. We hear a lot about this ethnic outcast from Burma, but do we truly know who they are? We know they have suffered a great deal with genocides, but why?

The Rohingya people of Myanmar are an ethnic minority found in the Arakan region of Burma. In early history, the people of this region, Arakan or Rakhine State, would have belonged to an ancient Burmese kingdom, making them predominantly Buddhist. In the 3rd century BC, the Rakhine State was what many historians refer to as Indianized, meaning that their culture and identity was altered due to interactions with the Indian Mauryan Empire, who at one point even colonized them. However, the Rohingya culture was further drastically changed upon the arrival of Arab traders who had a tendency to stop in this region because of its ideal location between India and the Strait of Malacca. Their presence in Arakan influenced the local community to the point that they were converted to Islam. To this day, the majority of people living in Arakan are primarily Sunni Muslim, as opposed to the rest of Myanmar where an overwhelming number of people (88%) practice Theravada Buddhism and 6% practice Christianity. The controversy in this region, like in many other regions of the world, stems from the religious differences that are widespread throughout Arakan.

The Rohingya people have suffered many forms of persecution for years. The main reason for their dissatisfaction with the Burmese government is the fact that the governing power in the Arakan region was given to the Rakhine ethnic group instead of the Rohingya people, who represent the quorum (if you include the 1 million people in refuge). In addition to having the political authority of the region, the Rakhine people also control the naming rights to the area that has been historically known as Arakan, even into British colonial times. Besides the fact that the Burmese Arakan Muslims are not allowed to rule the Rakhine State, they are also denied access to education. The children that are raised in Rohingya villages must receive their education through a mosque or Muslim community center. This decreases their opportunities of getting employment in Myanmar or in other countries to which they escape. This discrimination and abuse of the Muslim Burmese population have culminated in the current attempted ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people group in Burma.

Starting in 2016, the Rohingya people have been negatively cast by much of the Burmese media due to the fact that a rogue group of Burmese Muslims attempted to overtake a small border outpost. This was rightly criticized by the media as a terrorist attack. Even the State Counsellor (leader) of Myanmar has criticized these horrendous acts of violence towards her military, however, she has refused to comment on the devastating war-crimes that her military has subjected the Rohingya people, her people, too. From that point on, the Rohingya community suffered plight from the Burmese military forces. It is reported that 2,000 Rohingyas have died, and many others injured when they were subjected to the violence, mass killings, and other atrocious acts.

Today the world is experiencing one of the largest migrations in the history of man, the Rohingya migration. The Rohingya migration is primarily centered around the immigration to Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation already one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. In addition to migrating to Bangladesh, the Rohingya people have also been forced to relocate to countries such as Malaysia, India, and even the United States. There are currently an estimated 12,000 ethnic Rohingyas residing in America. Interestingly enough, there is a sizeable Rohingya refugee population in Wisconsin, where roughly 5,000 Rohingyas live. This year, the United States has admitted an additional 5,000 Rohingyas. Texas, California, and New York are the states that admit the most refugees, in general, so it is highly probable that there are Rohingyas living as close to us as New York. In the United States refugees are almost guaranteed the necessary tools for survival, but in Bangladesh, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) officers are struggling to provide food, water, shelter, and proper bathrooms to the people in need. The problem is that in Bangladesh there are already many people in need of such amenities that it makes it harder for the agency to provide the refugee people with the necessary subsistence.

In conclusion, the Rohingya people have suffered through war-crimes and many other acts of violence. They have been denied the right to control their home state and their education. Unfortunately, they are discriminated against because of their religious differences in Myanmar by their Buddhist neighbors and by their country’s own military. These terrible circumstances in which the Rohingya people have been placed,  have forced them to flee the country to places like Bangladesh and the United States of America. The Rohingya people have survived years of racist violence and they will persist and likely endure these most recent attacks.


Photo Credits to Asia News