Rohingya Issue

The Rohingya People

Rohingya people(Arakan-Indians) are an ethnic group of Indo-Aryans living in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. Majority of Rohingya people are Muslims while a small number of Hindus are also there. The one million population of Rohingya is described as ‘the most persecuted minority of the world’ by UN.

According to some claims, Rohingya people are descendants of Arab traders who travelled to China in ancient times. Myanmarese authorities view them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. But according to known history, they may be migrants from the Indian subcontinent in different time periods.


Migration from the Indian subcontinent to Myanmar (formerly Burma) had taken place for centuries, and Bengali-speaking settlers are recorded in Arakan since at least the 15th century. The term Rohingya, in the form of Rooinga, was recorded by the East India Company as early as 1799.  Though there are traces of Rohingya history since the 8th century, Burmese law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the national races.

We can trace the origin of Rohingya crisis to 1942 when a majority of Rohingya people sided with Japanese during the second world war and the Britishers armed the Muslims in the area to resist Japanese invasion. as a consequence of acquiring arms from the British during World War II, Rohingyas tried to destroy the Arakanese villages instead of resisting the Japanese.

Despite the improved status of Rohingya in British time and afterwards including representation in the national assembly and a proposal for a separate province, the situation deteriorated suddenly after the 1962 Burmese coup d’état. The Rohingya population is denied citizenship under the 1982 Burmese citizenship law and the Burmese law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the national races. They are also restricted from freedom of movement, state education and civil service jobs. The Rohingyas have faced military crackdowns in 1978, 1991–1992, 2012, 2015 and 2016–2017.

Rohingya are also not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land and are required to sign a commitment to have no more than two children. Since July 2012, the Myanmar Government does not include the Rohingya minority group—classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982—on the government’s list of more than 130 ethnic races and, therefore, the government states that they have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.

Rohingya politicians have been jailed to disbar them from contesting elections. Burma does not have a single Rohingya MP and Rohingya population have no voting rights.  

On 29 March 2014, the Burmese government banned the word “Rohingya” and asked for registration of the minority as “Bengalis” in the 2014 Myanmar Census, the first in three decades.

Rakhine State Riots 2012

A widely publicised Burmese conflict was the 2012 Rakhine State riots, a series of conflicts that primarily involved the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist people and the Rohingya Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State—an estimated 90,000 people were displaced as a result of the riots. The immediate cause of the riots is unclear, with many commentators citing the killing of ten Burmese Muslims by ethnic Rakhine after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman as the main cause.

Before the riots, there were widespread and strongly held fears circulating among Buddhist Rakhines that they would soon become a minority in their ancestral state. There is evidence that the pogroms in 2012 were organized with Rakhine men who participated in the riots telling International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) that they were told by the government to defend their “race and religion”, were given knives and free food and were bused in from Sittwe to attack the Rohingyas.

The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the regions. On 10 June 2012, a state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing the military to participate in the administration of the region. The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence.

The Boat People

The Rohingya have been leaving the Rakhine State by boat in search for jobs in Malaysia these recent years. Often, the boats are very small and dangerous on the open seas. An estimated 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in the last two years in fear of persecution and violence. They have been fleeing to Thailand, Malaysia, or even Australia for refuge. Over 200 have died in recent years and over 7,000 have been held in detention centres even after surviving the boat trip.

Many Rohingyas have fled to southeastern Bangladesh, where there are 670,000 refugees, as well as to India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. More than 100,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar live in camps for internally displaced persons, and the authorities do not allow them to leave.

Insurgency and Crackdown

On 9 October 2016, unidentified individuals who the Myanmar government claimed were insurgents attacked three Burmese border posts along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh. The attack resulted in the deaths of nine border officers. On 11 October 2016, four soldiers were killed on the third day of fighting. Following the attacks, reports emerged of several human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by Burmese security forces in their crackdown on suspected Rohingya insurgents.

Government officials in Rakhine State originally blamed the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), an Islamist insurgent group mainly active in the 1980s and 1990s, for the attacks; however, on 17 October 2016, a group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility. In the following days, six other groups released statements, all citing the same leader.

International Efforts

In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had assisted with the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps threatened this effort. In 2015, 140,000 Rohingyas remain in IDP camps after communal riots in 2012. Despite earlier efforts by the UN, the vast majority of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are unable to return to Myanmar due to the 2012 communal violence and fear of persecution.

Rohingya in India

India is said to be housing about 40,000 Rohingya Muslims who have sought shelter since 2012, of whom 16,500 have been formally recognised and registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee as refugees and asylum-seekers.  The government has declared its intention to deport some of the Rohingya refugees, especially those who are not registered by UNHCR.

The government of India perceive Rohingya Muslims as a potential security threat to India — especially after the emergence last year of a trained and well-funded group of Rohingya militants led by Saudi-based émigrés.It now fears dispossessed Rohingya refugees could be easily radicalised and used against India by its enemies in neighbouring Pakistan. India is also afraid of International Terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda radicalising the Rohingya refugees and using them for attacks in India.

The UNHCR is concerned about India’s intent to deport Rohingyas but said it had received no official notice of such plans, despite seeking clarification. It said it had not had any reports of UN-registered refugees being deported. India’s Supreme Court is also hearing a petition filed by two Rohingya that challenges the threatened deportations of the refugees.

India never signed the UN Convention Relating to Status of Refugees, which spells out the rights of refugees and the responsibilities of countries. Nor does it have a domestic refugee law. But New Delhi has a long history of providing refuge to groups fleeing persecution on an ad hoc basis since 1947 refugee movement after independence and partition. India had accepted Buddhist refugees from Tibet as well as Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka in the past.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is a United Nations programme mandated to protect and support refugees at the request of a government or the UN itself and assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, and it is a member of the United Nations Development Group. The UNHCR has won two Nobel Peace Prizes, once in 1954 and again in 1981.

UNHCR is mandated to provide, on a non-political and humanitarian basis, international protection to refugees and to seek permanent solutions for them. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. The Convention also sets out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals. The Convention also provides for some visa-free travel for holders of travel documents issued under the convention.


“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it..”

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