Visiting Myanmar’s Threatened Rohingyas

Despite official obstacles barring most observers and aid workers from western Myanmar, two months after dozens were killed in sectarian clashes and tens of thousands of Muslims were forced from their homes into “resettlement camps,” a television crew from Britain’s Channel 4 News managed to report from the region [recently].

As my colleague, Thomas Fuller, reported in June, Myanmar declared a state of emergency that month after violence between the Buddhist majority and a minority Muslim population known as Rohingyas swept Rakhine State, along the border with Bangladesh. The rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in May led to revenge attacks on the Rohingyas, who were blamed for the crime. In the following weeks, up to 60,000 Rohingyas were driven from their homes and a whole section of the regional capital Sittwe was burned to the ground.

The British crew managed to film at a camp for displaced Rohingyas outside Sittwe, and also interviewed Buddhists in the town who claimed, implausibly, that the Muslims had set their own homes on fire. The Buddhists also complained to the reporters that the United Nations and international aid groups are biased in favor of the Muslims.

Myanmar denies citizenship to the about 800,000 Rohingyas who live in the country, on the disputed theory that their ancestors arrived there after the start of British colonial rule in the 19th century. The government even proposed expelling them en masse last month. That has led some Rohingyas to try to find refuge across the border in Bangladesh.

According to Moshahida Sultana Ritu, an economist at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, who wrote a New York Times opinion piece on the crisis in July, fears of an influx of refugees “have aroused anti-Rohingya sentiment among some Bangladeshis, and initially Bangladesh’s government tried to force the refugees back without assisting them.”

Ms. Sultana Ritu also said Myanmar’s government used its security forces “to burn houses, kill men and evict Rohingyas from their villages.” The attack on the Rohingyas, the professor said, “is not sectarian violence; it is state-supported ethnic cleansing.”


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