Plight of Rohingya Muslims Highlighted
It has been four years since more than 140,000 Muslims in Arakan State in western Burma were displaced and forced to move to squalid camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, with no sign of returning home.
Their plight was highlighted by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on a visit to Burma in late August 2016 where he attended a historic peace conference in Burma's capital Naypyidaw.
During a speech in Naypyidaw, Ban Ki-moon said, “I conveyed the concern of the international community about the tens of thousands of people who have been living in very poor conditions in IDP camps for over four years.”
“Like all people everywhere, they need and deserve future hope and dignity,” said the UN secretary general on August 30.
The displaced Muslims in Arakan State are known as “Rohingya,” who have been living in western Burma for generations. However, Burmese governments have avoided the term “Rohingya” in order to prevent offending extremists and nationalists.
There are one million Rohingya Muslims living in western Burma, a majority-Buddhist country of more than 53 million.
Ban Ki-Moon said, “People who have been living for generations in this country should enjoy the same legal status and citizenship as everyone else.”
Rohingya Muslims in western Burma experience discrimination in ways other ethnic Muslim groups do not. They have no legal rights to citizenship, no freedom of movement, lack education, and have no economic prospects. They live in poverty, starvation and lack of medical care. Muslims living elsewhere in the country enjoy more freedom than Rohingyas in western Burma.
Hatred from local ethnic Arakanese Buddhists toward Rohingya Muslims has existed for generations. However, it become worse when communal violence erupted between the Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in 2012, forcing about 140,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, to displaced camps.
At a conference on Rohingya affairs in Oslo, Norway, in May of last year, George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist and political activist, said that when he traveled to Burma in January last year, he visited Aung Mingalar, one of several refugee camps in Arakan State. He described the outpost as a ghetto similar to the one he lived in as a child in Budapest in 1944.
He recalled, “In Aung Mingalar, I heard the echoes of my childhood. Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by Nazis around Eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home to thousands of families who once had access to health care, education and employment.”
“Now, they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming. Fortunately, we have not reached a stage of mass killing,” said Soros.
At least 4,000 Rohingyas remained confined to Aung Mingalar, which was set up by the government in 2012 after the communal violence.
Rohingya Muslims' roots in Burma extend back to 1948 after Burma broke away from Britain. Shortly after independence, Rohingya leaders pressured the central government to give them full control of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, two Rohingya-heavy areas in Arakan State.