Violence is escalating in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, as majority Buddhists continue to force their Rohingya neighbors out of the country.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, bordering Bangladesh on the Bay of Bengal. The country views it’s population of approx. 1.1 million Rohingya as illegal Bangledeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship, making them a stateless people in a hostile land.
Facing a slew of restrictions, the United Nations considers them one of the worlds most persecuted people.
The violence began seriously escalating in 2012, when clashes between Rohingyas and majority Buddhists sparked religious unrest, leaving more than 200 people dead and around 140,000 homeless.
Humans Rights Watch (HRW) said government policy and discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless in their own land.
“The Burmese authorities, particularly the military, have a clear policy to push them out from Burma using persecution in almost every form possible,” said Sunai Phasuk, HRW’s senior Thailand researcher.
“The modern Burmese state is built upon the concept of Buddhist Burmese supremacy; this concept has been used by the military as a pretext for their rule … and on the other hand to create a bogeyman or demonize the Rohingya as bogeymen for the country’s ills such as poverty and lack of social services.”
“Everything is being blamed on the Rohingya.
“[The Rohingya] are not allowed to register their marriage, they are not allowed to have education and worst of all, the Burmese authorities have encouraged communal violence against the Rohingya Muslims.”
Mr Phasuk said the survivors of communal unrest are forced to live in “ghetto-like facilities” unable to return to their homes.
“HRW research in 2013 concluded that the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state is a crime against humanity and bordering on ethnic cleansing,” he said.
The violence has caused thousands of Rohingya to flee on boats ran by human traffickers charging a steep price just to get on board. After a dangerous journey across the sea, they’ll arrive in the waters of Thailand or Malaysia, and forced into another round of extortion, due to coordination between the traffickers and the authorities.
The already steep fee for the trip is $US5,000 but the refugees are typically charged more for transport off of the boat, failure to pay leads to death, rape or being stranded to die by starvation.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand had recently sparked international outrage by refusing ferries overloaded with starving Rohingya as well as Bagledeshis.
On Wednesday, Malaysia and Indonesia announced they would no longer turn away migrants, offering to take in asylum seekers provided they can be resettled or repatriated within a year. A Thai foreign ministry statement said officials also agreed to not “push back migrants stranded in open waters”
The issue therein lies for migrants coming into Thailand, because the authorities see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants, detaining them indefinitely in cramped cells in the immigration detention centre, leaving them no access to the UNHCR screening process, leaving them no way to be recognised as refugees.