SITTWE, Myanmar (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Over the past two years, the global spotlight has shone on the plight of stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar. They are a minority group described by the United Nations as “virtually friendless” amongst Myanmar’s other ethnic, linguistic and religious communities.
Here are some facts about them.
Who are the Rohingya?
- The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar (formerly Burma), concentrated in the western state of Rakhine. There are about 1.33 million Rohingya in Myanmar, according to the Immigration Ministry.
- Rohingya activists claim a centuries-old lineage in Rakhine, but the 1982 Citizenship Law, enacted by Myanmar’s former military government, excluded them from a list of more than 100 groups recognised as ethnic minorities. This exclusion rendered most of them stateless. Since then, most Rohingya have been denied identification cards, which are required for everything from schooling and marriage to finding a job or getting a death certificate.
- The majority are in northern Rakhine state (NRS) which encompasses three townships - Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Maungdaw - and abuts the border with Bangladesh. Rohingya make up 91 percent of the estimated 1 million people living in NRS, which is one of the most remote, poorest, and most densely populated areas of the country. Media and aid agency access to NRS is tightly restricted.
What are their lives like?
- Rohingya in NRS face many restrictions. They cannot travel, get married or seek medical treatment without official permission, which is costly and difficult to secure. Rights groups say the Rohingya also face persecution, rape, forced labour, extortion, land confiscation and limited access to public services.
- NRS ranks below national averages on most socio-economic indicators in a country that already scores poorly on most such measures. According to the U.N., maternal mortality stands at 380 deaths per 100,000 live births in Maungdaw – which is double UNICEF's figure of 200 countrywide. Under-5 mortality is 135 per 1,000 children in Maungdaw, compared to a national average of 77.
- Surveys show the prevalence of acute malnutrition in NRS is continuously above the 15 percent emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization. In 2008, acute malnutrition was 22.7 percent in Buthidaung township, and 20.2 percent in 2009. A 2011 assessment found that 45 percent of households do not have reliable access to food.
Why have they been in the news in recent years?
- Two bouts of communal violence in 2012 killed at least 192 people and uprooted some 146,000 people from their homes. Most of the displaced were Rohingya. There are tens of thousands of Rohingya in displacement camps outside of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine.
- Some 86,000 people left Rakhine by boat between June 2012 and April 2014 to start new lives, and rights group say the exodus will continue.
- Those who cannot leave rely on aid agencies for basic needs, giving rise to accusations of bias by Buddhist nationalists in Rakhine and across Myanmar.
- Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland (MSF-H) and Malteser International, two organisations that had provided the bulk of healthcare in both NRS and in the camps, were expelled from Rakhine in February and March respectively, following a campaign against them by Buddhist radicals. On July 24, the Myanmar government announced the groups could go back to Rakhine, but the conditions of their return are uncertain.
- Despite the hardships they face, there is little sympathy towards the Rohingya in Myanmar. Anti-Rohingya sentiment is widespread, and the authorities call them “Bengalis”, to signify they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Even those in Myanmar’s democracy movement, including Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, have not spoken out on Rohingya’s behalf.
Sources: World Food Organization, UNHCR, UNOCHA, Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch, The Arakan Project, The European Commission.
(Editing by Alisa Tang: email@example.com)