Over 200,000 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have left their homes in the past month, seeking refuge in Bangladesh in the wake of persecution from civilian groups and military.
According to Al Jazeera, the escalation in the conflict between the Rohingya and the Myanmar government began mid-August after Rohingya militants assaulted police posts and an army base, killing 12 on the security force. Seventy-seven Rohingya Muslims were killed in the raid as well.
The attacks began after a United Nations meeting where former chief Kofi Annan pushed for Myanmar to allow free movement and citizenship for the Rohingya.
“Burmese troops, backed by local Buddhist mobs” have been forcing out, attacking and killing the Muslim population in the Rakhine State of Myanmar since the raid, according to the BBC.
The majority Muslim ethnic group has been denied citizenship in Myanmar despite having had a presence in the country for centuries, Al Jazeera reports. Of the 135 recognized ethnic groups within Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims are not included and have been rendered stateless due to the refusal of citizenship. This has led to the Rohingya being viewed as illegals within the country.
The Rohingya in Myanmar have been labeled as “the most persecuted minority” by Global Citizen, an international civil rights organization. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres along with the U.N Security Council asked Myanmar to cease the violence, but government officials of Myanmar continue to deny the occurrence of an “ethnic cleansing”.
Zakir Mamun, a Rohingya Muslim now in Bangladesh, told BBC reporter Sanjoy Majumber of the assault on his village and home before vacating for Bangladesh.
“People were ordered indoors… by the military,” Mamun said. “Then the military and the mobs threw bombs at our homes, setting them on fire.”
Jonathan Head, Southeast Asia correspondent for the BBC, joined a government sponsored tour of the Rakhine state. The tour showed Buddhist civilians that spoke only of the anger and violence of the Rohingya. The few Rohingya that remain say their greatest fear is the government. Colonel Phone Tint, the local minister for border security in Myanmar, stated that all of the violence is a result of Rohingya actions, reported Head.
During the tour, Head and other reporters on the government led tour stumbled upon a village that had recently been set on fire. Correspondents found Rakhine carrying machetes. In his report to the BBC, Head states the Rakhine told reporters they set the fires with the help of the police.
Violence against the Rohingya is nothing new in Myanmar. The Deutsche Welle, a German international news organization, reports that in the 1970s, a mass exodus of Rohingya occurred when the Burmese government began screening out foreigners. Refugees told stories of being evicted by the army and facing brutality. The DW also reports that the largest exodus of the Rohingya occurred from 1991 to 1992 in which the army faced accusations of forced labor, rape and persecution of the group.
Despite Myanmar labeling itself as a country that enjoys religious freedom, the United States Commission on International Religions Freedom disclosed in an annual report on Burma that attacks on the Rohingya are continual. Myanmar is largely made up of Theravada Buddhists and has a history of intolerance towards other religions. Christians within the country also face restrictions on owning land, have been forced to relocate and have experienced destruction of houses of worship and cemeteries.
Myanmar is labeled by USCIRF as a Tier One Country of Particular Concern alongside North Korea and Russia. The Tier One category means a country is high on a watchlist for dangerous actions and poses a treat to safety.
The future of the Rohingya in Myanmar is uncertain, states Channel NewsAsia. Their lives revolve around escaping persecution and survival. However, for some, there is hope. Despite living in a refugee camp now, Mamun says he’s happy he made it to Bangladesh.
“It’s a Muslim country,” Mamun said. “We are safe here.”