A majority of people, like myself, may not know a whole lot about the country Myanmar, previously known as Burma. For starters, it is a predominantly Buddhist country in the Southeast region of Asia that borders Thailand and Bangladesh. There has been a steady conflict between the Rohingya that live in the Rakhine state and the rest of the Myanmar population ever since World War II.
During the war, Myanmar was under British rule. However, once Japanese soldiers invaded Myanmar, the Buddhists sided with them, thinking that they would win, and the Rohingya sided with the British. In the end the British were victorious so inherently, an extreme tension between the two groups was born. Religious discrimination has also posed a threat to the Muslim Rohingyas within the past two hundred years. Back in 1948, the two sides clashed because Rohingyas demanded they receive the same rights as any other Burmese citizens. Sadly, they were meet with retaliation and never received those rights. Even today, Muslim Rohingyas are not considered citizens of Burma. In 1962, Myanmar’s military took over under the direction of Ne Win and established an authoritarian military rule.
As a result, the Rohingya were deprived of all of the rights they once held dear. Ne Win isolated the country turning the once prosperous country into a complete disaster. Heavy restrictions were put on who could come in and out of the country. The free press was also banned which meant there was a shortage of newspapers and books.
Thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee the country into Bangladesh because the military was closing in on them. “Ethnic cleansing” has been the main culprit of Rohingyas being forced out of their villages. This persecution still is heavily known today to thousands of Rohingya refugees. According to a CNN article, “Since, August 25, 2017, an estimated 688,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh” (Wright, Rebecca, and Salman Saeed). Rohingyas were forced to leave after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked border posts, killing 9 officers. These refugees are placed in camps alongside the Myanmar – Bangladesh border. Bangladesh authorities refuse to give refugees a home while the president of Myanmar resists any effort for the refugees to come back into Myanmar. These refugees are stateless.
Conditions in these camps are horrific. Rohingyas aren’t allowed to receive an education or apply for health care. Marriage is not allowed and you can only have children if you have a license to do so. The humanitarian aid that Rohingyas do receive in little in comparison to the amount that they so desperately need to survive. Many refugees sneak out of the camps to find illegal work, and varying ages of girls resort to selling sex in order to feed their families. As of this week, Rohingyas are being told to go back to their villages in Myanmar.
This stirs up fear in those refugees who have just arrived in the camps with the memory of endless persecution still lingering in their minds. Many Rohingyas have voiced their concerns saying, “If the government of Bangladesh threatens to kill us by cutting our throats, we will not go back even then” (Wright, Rebecca, and Salman Saeed). These individuals are eager for a taste of freedom, and being in the camps, safely away from the discrimination and harassment of the Burmese is enough to keep them there. Repatriation will occur, it is just the question of when. Officials from both countries have been discussing dates, but there is nothing set in stone. This event was interesting to research because I am currently studying social work and our whole purpose as social workers is to be a voice for those who don’t necessarily have one. Sadly, these Rohingya people don’t have any say in what is happening to them. Yes, they have tried in the past to petition for equal rights and have asked to be recognized by the Burmese as a legitimate ethnic group, but they keep on receiving backlash instead of change.
They are getting pushed back and forth from one country to the other, neither of them wanting to recognize the refugees as citizens in their country. These Rohingya refugees have lost their rights, land, and their identity. Nowhere to put down roots. I can’t imagine the sorrow and pain they have gone through in the past decades. Not only is this having a negative impact on the families today, but they will still feel the sting of discrimination as they go back into Myanmar and other countries. No law will be strong enough to keep these individuals safe in Myanmar or Bangladesh. During my research, I was especially interested in the conditions of the camps these individuals lived in for many years.
Malnutrition is commonplace as well as domestic violence, rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. Families have been separated for long periods of time. All of these factors have played a role in the development of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder that many Rohingyas have acquired just by living during this time.
These extreme conditions stick with you for your whole life. The reality is that these refugees will never get the help they need to overcome these disorders unless they are accepted by others. The pain and suffering from this event will haunt them for years to come.
Stories like this remind me of how blessed I am to live in a country that allows me to practice whatever religion I desire and not to fear that I may be persecuted for what I believe. Reading this has also encouraged me to know more about the world around me. Before reading this article I had no idea that there was even a country named Myanmar. This experience has taught me that I need to be more aware of the world around me and that I should actively expand my perspective outside of my little bubble.