Myanmar’s Muslim minority have actually been assaulted with impunity, stripped of the vote and also driven from their homes. It might get worse


ARKAM to be 12 as soon as he watched males beat his father’s head v a brick and slaughter him v a knife. The family had to be walking residence from the mosque close to their village in Rakhine, Myanmar’s westernmost state, when a stone-throwing lot blocked their path. Their Buddhist neighbours had ordered lock to prevent practising Islam. The murder was a punishment for clinging to their faith.

Now 18 years old, Arkam lives in a shipping container ~ above a building site ~ above the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. He bunks v seven other Rohingyas, every refugees from Myanmar; they are amongst several hundred migrants life in containers stacked 2 storeys high along a single muddy track. By job they earn slightly much less than the minimum wage building an apartment block, whose half-finished skeleton looms above their camp; in the evenings they have the right to buy food and also clothes native mobile stallholders who prevent outside. Your containers room brightly lit and fairly clean, but the air reeks of sewage.

You are watching: The most oppressed group of all

Arkam risked a many to with Malaysia. A little over a year ago he boarded a boat run through traffickers in the only of Bengal, through no idea what might follow. They travelled to Thailand, a 12-day sail with insufficient food and water, and also occasional beatings indigenous the crew. That 1,100 human being who set sail in 2 ships, Arkam believes the at least four died in transit, from illness or violence—he experienced one man, hysterical, leap into the sea. Once he reached the shore, traffickers held him in ~ a tropical camp till a loved one paid them 6,000 ringgit ($1,600). By the moment he reached Malaysia—hoisted over the razor wire follow me its north border—he had been travelling because that a month.

His bunkmate, a 20-year-old Rohingya referred to as Ashan, tells a similar tale. One day, once he was nine years old, his father and also elder brother visited pray at the mosque near their residence in Rakhine. They never returned. About 18 months ago a mob collection fire to dwellings in the village. He and a dozen others escaped by swimming across the flow to Bangladesh. Traffickers were waiting on the various other side and also bundled that onto your boat against his will. He says that eight or nine of the 200 or so world he collection off with died in the adhering to weeks. His captors to be angry the he had actually not arranged because that anyone come pay because that his passage and also they endangered to death him; in the end civilization from his town scraped together 3,500 ringgit come buy his freedom.

Rohingyas have frequently been dubbed the many persecuted minority in the world, unable to insurance claim citizenship in Myanmar (where around 1.1m of lock live in Rakhine), or in any other country. Arkam and Ashan are however two of the growing variety of Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Myanmar to reach Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. In the an initial quarter the this year 25,000 people, Rohingyas and also Bangladeshis, boarded boats to overcome the just of Bengal. The sight of thousands of emaciated men, women and children packed right into the traffickers’ rusty old boats has captured the world attention. Yet Rohingyas have actually been escaping in droves because that years; 100,000 or so room thought to it is in in Malaysia, attracted by the country’s prosperity and Islamic heritage.


Since 2012, when 140,000 Rohingyas were required into squalid refugees camps after ~ the local Buddhists turn on them, their situation has been especially dire. For, although unscrupulous traffickers regularly prey ~ above the watercraft people, the is the terrible problems at home in Rakhine that pressure the Rohingyas the end to sea in the an initial place. Human-rights groups warn the the situation in Rakhine is now so desperate that, in the words of the Simon-Skjodt centre of America’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, which campaigns to stop genocide, the Rohingyas are “at grave danger extr mass atrocities and even genocide”.

Hundreds of hundreds of Rohingyas have fled to southern Bangladesh, an especially the an ar around Cox’s Bazaar. In the village of Shamlapur, Toheba Khatun, a 50-year-old Rohingya, claims that she arrived from Myanmar 18 years ago after her husband was ordered to do required labour through the Myanmar army: “We’d work-related all day v no food, and no pay at the finish of it,” she says. One day her husband was unable to carry a box of weapons that weighed 60kg, and he was beaten mercilessly. Therefore they sold every little thing they had and also crossed right into Bangladesh.

Ms Khatun worries constantly about her daughter, age 14, who boarded a watercraft to Malaysia and has not been heard from for 2 months. Indeed, the Rohingyas in Malaysia kind a ar living “essentially in hiding” says Matthew blacksmith of Fortify Rights, a lobby group. Malaysia refuses to approve them any legal status. By legislation they space not allowed to work; in exercise many new arrivals room exploited by employers who house them in cramped apartments or makeshift shelters. The state offers no health and wellness care; nor will it education Rohingya children, who complete to to visit a small variety of learning centres funded by charities. Nonetheless, Arkam and Ashan still earn an ext in Malaysia than they walk in Rakhine. And, says Ashan, once he goes to sleep at least he knows the he will wake increase in the morning.

The victims’ victims’ victims

Muslims probably arrived in what to be then the live independence kingdom that Arakan (now Rakhine) together long ago as the 8th century. They were seafarers and traders native the middle East, and also were join in the 17th century by tens of thousands of Bengali Muslims recorded by the marauding Arakanese. Part were forced to offer in the king the Arakan’s army, rather were offered as slaves and yet an ext were forced to clear up in Arakan. “Rohingya” simply means “inhabitant of Rohang”, the at an early stage Muslim surname for Arakan. The kingdom was then dominated by the Burmese army in 1785.

At this time there was small tension between the Muslims and also the Arakanese. The all changed, however, through the British conquest of Arakan in 1825. Together Arakan and Burma were administered as part of brothers India, hundreds of thousands of Bengalis (or “Chittagonians” together the British dubbed them) flooded into Arakan to work. By 1941 about a third of the population of Akyab (now Sittwe) was taped as comes from Chittagong or in other places in Bengal.

This fixed immigration raised the colonial economy, however local Arakanese gall resented it. They had actually no manage over it, believing the their jobs and also land to be being taken end by civilization whom castle still contact “illegal immigrants”, or simply (pejoratively) “Bengalis”. Relations additional soured throughout the 2nd world war once the retreating British equipped some Muslims to fight against the Rakhine, who mostly sided with the Japanese.

In post-war Burma, the Rakhine, like the various other 135 officially recognised ethnic teams of the nation such as the Kachin, Karen and Chin, were discriminated against by the Burmese military governments. Together one Rakhine politician puts it, “we are because of this the victim of Muslimisation and Burmese chauvinism”. Myanmar’s post-independence governments, in turn, saw themselves together the victim of British colonial oppression, therefore both the Rakhine and the Burmese authorities have actually been much more concerned v their own sense that victimhood than any claims the the Rohingyas. This is why Myanmar’s federal governments have never granted lock citizenship or even recognised them as an indigenous ethnic group.

Bangladesh does not enable the Rohingyas citizenship, either. In the mid-1990s some 200,000 the them to be brutally repatriated to Myanmar, a process shamefully overseen by the UN. The Rohingyas deny that they are just Bengalis, and also insist on their richer, an ext ancient heritage in the old Arakan kingdom. On this rests their insurance claim to citizenship and also as an native ethnic team of Myanmar.


Sittwe burns

Any effort to mediate these two narratives to be shattered by the ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state in 2012. Sparked by the rape and also murder the a Rakhine mrs by three Muslim men, around 200 civilization were killed as Rakhine mobs rampaged with Sittwe and other parts of Rakhine to drive the Rohingyas from their midst. The tens of thousands forced into camps were reduced off from your livelihoods, and barred from schools and hospitals.

Researchers in ~ the international State Crime to plan (ISCI), a cross-disciplinary scholastic group, controversy that several of this violence was organised. They speak to Rakhine guys who claimed they were bussed into Sittwe to strike Muslims, and also were motivated to bring knives. They to be given free food for a day’s work. In the fervently anti-Muslim atmosphere of Myanmar, encouraged by both buddhist monks and also politicians concerned to protect their “race and religion” against supposed Muslim expansionism, this is checked out as great politics. It is component of a last attempt through the federal government to stave off loss at what is expected to it is in the an initial relatively totally free and fair general election for decades in November.

Professor Penny green of the ISCI argues that the country cleansing the 2012 to be a phase in what she defines as the “process the genocide”. Historically, in other countries, this has started through stigmatisation and also escalated come harassment, isolation and also the organized weakening of civil rights. Only after this grim groundwork has actually been laid is a genocide (ie, the fixed annihilation that a people) most likely to occur. The very first four stages have all happened to the Rohingyas (see table). The damaging next phase is of food not unavoidable in Rakhine state, yet it is possible, argues Professor Green.


The Myanmar federal government angrily denies this. However Professor environment-friendly points the end that those attack Rohingyas enjoy complete impunity; nobody has also been prosecuted, let alone jailed, because that the killings in 2012. In the present climate of hostility, that would just take a spark, perhaps noted by the election, because that the worst come happen.

Despite these dreadful provocations, the Rohingyas have so much remained substantial pacific. Others, however, are an ext militant on your behalf, provoking fears of an Islamist backlash versus Myanmar, or also Buddhism in general. Most recently Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, request in a sermon on might 14th: “Where is the assistance of al-Salul and also their allies for a million that the weak Muslims who room all without exception being exterminated in Burma?”

So much this sort of rhetoric has not price to much. Rakhine has not rotate into an additional Chechnya or Kashmir (ie, a large draw for angry young jihadists), for three reasons. First, international fighters these days are drawn mainly to join IS in Syria and also Iraq, which uses them a more glamorous cause: fighting for a caliph rather than defending bad farmers and also fishermen. Second, Myanmar secures its boundaries well, making it hard for international jihadists to with the would-be battlefield. And also third, as cutting board Hegghammer, a Norwegian experienced on Islamism, explains, militants “don’t go to whereby Muslims suffer; they go to whereby Muslims fight.” Rakhine this particular day has an ext killing fields than battlefields.

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Myanmar in graphics: An unfinished peace

For Rohingyas, the alternative to fighting is flight. In Malaysia recent images of Rohingyas adrift in the Andaman Sea might mark the first steps to enhancing the refugees’ lives when they action ashore and dismantling the networks which website traffic them. Malaysia’s Muslim politicians, spying a possibility to stoke religiosity, urge that country Malays have actually a duty to assist the Rohingyas. Most campaigners are pessimistic about lasting change, however. “It will be talked about for three or four months, and nothing will certainly come of it,” claims Aegile Fernandez that Tenaganita, a migrant-rights charity. But, uneven something changes, life is so poor for Rohingyas in Myanmar that thousands much more will shot to escape on rickety watercrafts when the following dry season arrives in November.

Timeline photo credits: AFP, Alamy, Bridgeman, Getty, Richard Cockett, Wikipedia

This article showed up in the Asia section of the print edition under the title "The many persecuted world on Earth?"