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You have all probably seen in the news what happened yesterday in Myanmar (former Burma). Basically, a coup happened and the military seized control of the country. The de facto leader of Myanmar has been arrested by the same military leaders that she previously defended against genocide accusations. But I'm not going to discuss about this today. Instead I will focus on a topic that has been in the news in the last couple of years, but the international community did almost nothing to solve the crisis.
I hope everybody is well and I'm glad to be back with my writings. As I said, I will talk about a refugee crisis. Even if there could be many things to discuss about Myanmar, the Rohingya crisis, that has happened recently, made so many international headlines. I'm sure many of you have heard about it, something about Muslims vs. Buddhists. You see those picture of like angry Buddhist monks protesting or Rohingya people leaving and mass crossing rivers and houses on fire, but what is really going on?
Well, this post is going to serve as kind of like a reference you can use when talking about Myanmar. First of all, let's discern what it is not. Contrary to what many media outlets will tell you, it is not an expulsion of all Muslims from Myanmar. Rohingya is the not the only Muslim group in this country, there are many other Muslim groups. There are even ethnic Burmese people, the largest group in Myanmar, that are Muslim. This whole conflict is mostly centered around the Rohingya people and they just so happen to be predominantly Muslim.
So first of all, who are the Rohingya people?
The Rohingya are an Indo-Aryan people group that reside in the Western Rakhine State of Myanmar close to the border of Bangladesh. They have their own language, customs traditions and out of all the people groups in Myanmar, they are probably the least assimilating. Most of Rohingya do not read, write or speak the Burmese language and overall, since day one, there is just always kind of been this clash. But how did it start?
Well, first of all, this conflict is not even really something new. It's kind of been going on for over half a century. But to really understand that, you have to go back even further in time. Historically speaking, the Rakhine State, which is where all of this is happening, was subject to many kingdoms in the past, mostly Hindu kingdoms. Eventually, in the 18th century, the Burmese king conquered it and kind of took over. In the 1800's, Myanmar, which was called Burma back then, was subject to the British Empire and during British Empire times, a lot of people just kind of move back and forth between all of what are now the modern-day states of the Indian subcontinent. But then, in World War Two, things got kind of messy. Basically, the Rohingya were allied with the British and they kind of wanted to secede their areas to East Pakistan a.k.a. Bangladesh now. But Burma was allied with the Japanese and eventually Burma took over. There was some small wars within the Burmese territory and then they gained independence. After independence, they kind of figured with victory the Rohingya would probably just leave and go to Bangladesh, but they pretty much stayed.
This is what made Burma mad, because essentially they kind of saw them as like illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. To this day, there are 135 ethnic groups recognized in Myanmar and the largest minority groups were given their own states, according to the Panglong Agreement. The Rohingya, even at over a million in population prior to the conflict, are not recognized by the Burmese government and have since independence been denied citizenship.
For Myanmar, they basically say that under Section 3 of the Citizenship Law of 1982, it states that "Only members of ethnic groups that settled within Myanmar prior to 1823 are automatically eligible for Myanmar citizenship". Otherwise, "if they have descendants that have entered prior to 1948, they can apply for naturalization if they can submit strong and conclusive evidence of their status". With this said, basically Myanmar sees Rohingya as remnants of the British colonial past and hence ineligible for citizenship or full rights.
However, on the Rohingya side, they claim to be descended from Arab traders that have settled into the area over a thousand years ago. Granted though, it is kind of hard for them to give concrete solid proof of this claim and many of the Rohingya do not even have proper documents, which adds further suspicions on Myanmar side to believe that many of them may have just illegally crossed over from Bangladesh. Whether or not it may be true, but then again is very difficult, because they were not really given paperwork to begin with, so it is kind of like this weird circular argument, but anyway, you got the idea.
Fighting has been going on post-World War Two for about 24 years right after WW2. The Rohingya Mujahideen fought against the Burmese government. They tried to secede to Bangladesh. It did not work out. Insurgent separatists fought again against the Burmese government in the 70s, which prompted Operation Dragon King. It was an act the attempted to register all the people in the area and expel those that were illegal. It did not go so well. Then, in the 80s, the Rohingya Solidarity Organization was formed and it was the biggest paramilitary group for Rohingya separatists. This is the part that a lot of people miss out.
There is an insurgent separatist group on the Rohingya side. This is what adds fuel to the fire. In the early 80s and 90s, they merged with another group and eventually created the current Rohingya National Army, which, allegedly, is supported by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Training videos have been released. Now, the tipping point.
If you do not know anything about Myanmar's government, they are really not pushovers and they really do not like it when things get out of order. When it came to the Rohingya paramilitary groups, they got really fed up with all of the national policies against them as non citizens in their own hometowns, which caused them to eventually snap and go on the offensive. When that happened, it was like poking a big sleeping Buddhist giant.
Recently, in 2017, the Burmese government conducted a security briefing which ended in a lot of Rohingya lives being lost, which them prompted an attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, another paramilitary group. They attacked over 30 Burmese police posts and this was right before the presentation from the international community on the Rohingya crisis After that happened, that was basically the beginning of the refugee crisis. Over half a million people had to flee the country as paramilitary forces and the Burmese government just went at an all-out brawl. Houses burned down, people malnourished, not knowing what to do, crowded inhuman camps seeking help. There are many reports on both sides explaining their own versions of the story. Many get jumbled up in facts vs. testimonies that may not be substantial, but what we do know is that many have died. Rohingya have been found killed in jungles or they were drowned at sea trying to escape the violence. It's very messy.
What is basically boils down to though is the Myanmar government and military fighting against the insurgent Rohingya paramilitary groups. The Burmese military is like lashing out, very, very harshly, which causes hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people that did not want anything to do with anything to suffer the most. You will hear a lot of other sides of the story though. Some people say that this is all about oil in the Indian Ocean off of Myanmar's coast and they want to sell it to China, while others say it is about radicalized Buddhism, but it basically comes down to is that you have to look deep into everything that has happened and consider both sides of the entire spectrum of the story. It is hard and it is complicated, but one thing we know is that it is never good to have war and have people suffer at the expense of it.
If you would like to help out Rohingya refugees, there are currently many organizations working on the issue right now. From my own experience, Medecins Sans Frontieres/ Doctors Without Borders is a good one. They help out with medical demands and I have not looked too much into it, but I was told that Brac/ the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee is also a good one.
I tried my best to explain the situation as plain and objectively as I could. I may have missed a few notes here and there, but I hope this is enough for you to understand what this crisis is really about.