Who are the Rohingya?

23 August 2019

Topics: refugees rohingya

The Rohingya are an ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar. Currently, there are about 1.1 million Rohingya in the Southeast Asian country.  They are not considered one of the country's 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.

Over the past decade, religious and ethnic tensions between the Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists escalated into widespread, deadly rioting. Ongoing violent attacks have forced many people to leave their homes – but Rohingya people are rejected almost everywhere they seek safety. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people are now living in limbo as refugees across Southeast Asia.

Friends Nur and Asima are seen collecting water in Jamtoli Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar. Richard Wainwright/Act for Peace
The most recent bout of violence began in August 2017 when more than 700,000 Rohingya people fled Myanmar to nearby Bangladesh. Amidst reports of killings by Myanmar security forces, satellite images suggest entire villages were burned to the ground.

The Myanmar Government says that Rohingya people are not Burmese citizens – but the Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for generations. Today, they are a people with no home or citizenship. Even their name (the very word ‘Rohingya‘) is denied them in Myanmar.

The Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Just recently, on 16 August 2019, the Bangladesh government announced their preparations to imminently repatriate 3,450 Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to Myanmar, which was scheduled to commence 22 August 2019. The repatriation announcement challenges numerous assurances by the Bangladeshi authorities that any repatriation would be done in safety, with dignity, and on a voluntary basis. 

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)is deeply concerned that there will be insufficient time to determine the voluntariness of any refugee return, given the phenomenally truncated timeline. APRRN is worried that any refugee that returns, may not in fact be guaranteed safe, dignified, and sustainable living conditions in Rakhine State. Furthermore, neither the Government of Bangladesh nor the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have access to monitor the conditions for returnees. The Deputy Chair of APRRN’s Rohingya Working Group, Chris Lewa, notes that “We have simply seen zero evidence of conditions inside Myanmar having improved. Any return of refugees at this point in time would pose a tremendous risk to personal safety and would breach the internationally agreed norm of non-refoulement.”

Based on UNHCR guidelines, the core components of safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation and reintegration are physical, legal and material safety. A sustainable repatriation plan should address these components to ensure that returnees are protected by national legal systems and institutions. 
**The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) is a network of 400 civil society organisations and individuals from 28 countries committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia Pacific region.