Photo Credit: Nora Rowley--Rathidaung Bayside Small Village Center
The Rohingya and Arakan populations in Burma, estimated to total 800,000 to 1,000,000 people, have expressed mutual animosity for a long period of time. In 1982, the Burmese military government passed a law excluding the Rohingya from Burmese citizenship, effectively rendering them stateless. Rohingya are not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land, and are required to sign a commitment not to have more than two children. Rohingya are referred to as “Bengali,” “so-called Rohingya,” or the pejorative “Kalar,” by the Burmese government officials. They face widespread animosity from broader Burmese society. Neighboring Bangladesh and Thailand have refused to allow Rohingya refugees into their countries; Thailand has gone so far as to tow the Rohingya out to sea.
The Rohingya’s lack of legal status has contributed to tensions in Arakan State. People who cannot provide “conclusive evidence” that their ancestors settled in Burma before 1823, are denied full citizenship and attendant rights and Rohingya falling into this criteria face restrictions on freedom of movement, access to education, and employment. However, these are rights guaranteed to non-citizens as well as citizens under international law. Without the United Nations World Food Program intervention, thousands of dispossessed Rohingya would likely face hunger and possibly starvation annually.
Global response to this crisis has been muted, partly because focus on Burma has revolved around Aung San Suu Kyi and the government’s moves toward democratization, but also because there are contradictory allegations regarding the Rohingya themselves. Are they a fairly recent community of migrants, as some have alleged, or are they a community with roots that go back a thousand years, as others have stated?
Greg Constantine's powerpoint on "Exiled to Nowhere"
Karen Human Rights Group in May 2002 published a report on anti-Muslim riot which also gives very explicit picture of the Muslim suffering in Burma.