The Plight of the Rohingya
The government in Burma (also known as Myanmar) has been slowly erasing and dehumanizing the Rohingya Muslims since 1962, with the most recent exodus of Rohingya Muslims from their homeland in 2017 totaling 700,000 people. A genocide by definition is “an internationally recognized crime where acts are committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group,” and this is genocide of the Rohingya people.
When Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, Rohingya Muslims worked together with their fellow citizens to establish a new government. However, when the military seized control in 1962, they initiated an extreme nationalist campaign that didn't include Rohingya. The government seized their ID cards, banned their radio program, and refused to call them by name. From that point forward, the government referred to the "foreigners" as simply “Islam” or “Bengali.” During this time, more than 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.
In 1991, the prejudice and violence worsened. The government initiated a new campaign against the Rohingya entitled “Clean and Beautiful Nation.” Soldiers executed, raped, and assaulted Rohingya in addition to destroying their homes and property. Forced labor, marriage restrictions, land seizure, and physical abuse became everyday realities for Rohingya. Another 250,000 men, women, and children sought refuge in Bangladesh. In 2012, a second wave of anti-Rohingya violence took place. Local Rakhine citizens and extremists attacked Rohingya after Muslim men allegedly raped and killed a Buddhist woman. They physically assaulted them and burned their mosques and homes. This led to the mass displacement and permanent segregation of more than 120,000 mostly Rohingya survivors to 24 internment camps in Burma.
Although the Burmese government had been controlling the news for decades, the surge of technology and social media platforms allowed for more widespread degradation of Rohingya. Hate campaigns, propagated by extremist public figures, soldiers, and Buddhist monks, went viral on Facebook. Rohingya were referred to as stray dogs, fleas, predators, and foreigners. Rohingya responded to decades of genocide with both flight and fight. Tens of thousands fled by boat to Thailand or Malaysia. A small group fought back and attacked a Burmese police outpost. In 2017, the military retaliated with another widespread campaign of violence, referred to as a “clearance operation,” on Rohingya throughout Rakhine State. They massacred over 9,000 men and women, slaughtered children in front of their parents, raped women, and burned homes, schools, and mosques. They destroyed evidence of the generations of Rohingya who had lived there. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
Currently, Rohingya struggle to come to terms with their new reality in Bangladesh refugee camps. Children under 12 make up around 40% of the refugees in these camps. Women struggle to recover from the trauma of gang rape by Burmese soldiers, which accounted for 80% of sexual violence against women in 2017. Most of all, they long to go home, where authorities have already begun new construction on the charred ground.
Bellwether is committed to restoring human dignity to the Rohingya people. We are working with partners on the ground, aiding refugee camps and funding the trauma response in the women's center. We begin by telling their story. You begin by reading their story and sharing it.