Burma’s Rohingya people have time and again been described as the world’s most persecuted minority, or as its least wanted people. In 2014, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Early Warning Project placed the nation of Burma on the top of the list as having the most fertile ground for potential genocide; the target of that genocide would no doubt be ethnic Rohingyas.
The Rohingya are Muslims. They are indigenous to Burma’s Rakhine province in the North West region that borders Bangladesh. There are an estimated 2 million Rohingya, of which, fewer than 1 million remain in Burma today.
How exactly have Burmese Muslims come to be described as the most persecuted and least wanted people in the world? Despite having historic ties that span generations and centuries to the land of Burma, the Rohingya people were rendered stateless in 1982 by a highly stratified citizenship law that did not recognize Rohingya as one of Burma’s natural, and thereby legitimate, ethnicities. As a result, the Rohingya people have been incorrectly and unjustly classified as foreigners in their own homeland. As if life for Burmese Muslims hadn’t been difficult enough, the Citizenship Law of 1982 has since become the grounds for the rising tide of Islamophobia in Burma. Discriminatory government led initiatives are fueled by a hatred for Muslims and are designed to alienate ethnic Rohingya from Burmese Buddhist life. One such initiative involves the denial of the use of the term “Rohingya” from public discourse and instead, wrongfully imposing the incorrect term “Bengali” in an effort to other Rohingya peoples – as non-Buddhist, as Muslims, as foreigners. The Rohinyga peoples have been pushed to the literal margins of Burmese society where they are vulnerable, where human rights abuses are staggering and are extremely difficult to document.
In recent years, the rise of communal violence has led many Rohingya to flee neighboring states, such as Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia, where they have been met with further hostility, rejection by governments and relegated to a life of complete neglect in refugee camps, and have faced the very real dangers of trafficking.