The Rohingyas are a muslim group who have lived for centuries in Myanmar, the nation formerly known as Burma. An old community, they speak their own language and have their own culture. The majority of people in Myanmar are Buddhist. They do not recognise the Rohingyas as their citizens.
Some reports have placed the Rohingyas in Burma since the 15th century. So why are they not recognised as citizens of the area? Some people say that the enmity between the Rohingyas and the native Buddhists began a long time ago, but was solidified after the British left the area in 1948, and when the military took over Myanmar in 1962.
The military needed a common enemy for the Buddhists to rally against. They chose the Rohingyas. They made a new set of rules for the country that recognised groups that would get citizenship in Myanmar, and the Rohingyas were not one of them. Since they are not recognised as citizens, they have not been given the rights to vote, study, travel, marry, or to practice their religion freely. Most of them live in the poorest area of Myanmar, an area called the Rakhine state. Following the military coup, some of the Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, and later returned to Myanmar. The government now says that the Rohingyas are Bangladeshi and are trying to claim citizenship in Myanmar.
OK… so why are they in the news these days? Some armed Rohingya men attacked and killed some Buddhists in Myanmar on 25 August, 2017. It looks like this gave the military an excuse to escalate the violence and to treat the Rohingyas in general badly. Many of these people have had to try and escape death by abandoning their homes and villages. They have been trying to escape mainly into neighbouring Bangladesh, but also into Thailand and Malaysia.
The United Nations has reported that 500,000 Rohingyas have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since 25 August, 2017. That is a lot of people who are running for their lives!
So what are we doing about this? There is a lot of International pressure now on Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar, to stop this unjust treatment of the Rohingyas. So far, she has not stepped up and come to their help. The International community is thinking about the kinds of punishment it can give to Myanmar. These include sanctions, where Myanmar will not be given certain trade agreements through which the country can earn money.
Contributor: Jahnavi Kohli, a lawyer, writer, and mom!