What is the Rohingya Refugee Crisis?

December 3, 2017

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a primarily Buddhist country located in Southeast Asia, and it has has recently come under international scrutiny for its treatment of the Rohingya people. The Rohingya people are a primarily Muslim ethnic minority group in Myanmar, and they have been discriminated against for decades. Many of them are not recognized as citizens, and they face restrictions regarding their ability to work, study, travel, marry, and retain their cultural identity. Over the years, there have been allegations of abuse against the government of Myanmar, including questions of ethnic cleansing. This has led to many Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh for decades. The crisis has recently come to international attention due to the intense military campaign that has caused over 615,000 people to flee. Rohingya insurgents attacked thirty security posts on August 25, 2017, which led to a massive counteroffensive by the Burmese military. There are allegations of murder, rape, and arson carried out by the troops. The military is saying that all of these allegations are false. The United Nations has called the treatment of the Rohingya “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” and the British government has also said that “it looks like ethnic cleansing.” In response to these disturbing reports, governments are re-evaluating their military aid to Myanmar, with both the U.S. and the U.K. cutting military aid to the southeastern country, and the US is considering sanctions as well. Bangladesh recently signed a deal to return the displaced Rohingya people to Burma, saying that people may be sent back in as early as two months.


Photo: Phil Botha on Unsplash  


While billions of dollars worth of aid and support have been flowing into Myanmar and Bangladesh to help the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyan refugees, it remains unclear how the situation will progress and how many more people will be killed or forced to leave their homes. While the United Nations and the International community continue to call for an end to the violence so that people may return to their homes, the Burmese government continues to deny that they did anything more than fight back against a group of terrorists. Questions over whether to label the persecution a “genocide” remain unanswered at this moment, and it is unclear whether military actions have halted, as the Burmese military says that they have.


Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, has been internationally criticized for failing to take actions to prevent this atrocity. The Nobel Peace Laureate was seen as a beacon of hope and democracy for the country, yet she has not done anything to condemn the violence against the Muslim minority group. Earlier this week, The Oxford City Council voted to strip her of the “Freedom of Oxford” award. Around the world, people are becoming more and more aware of the tragedies in Myanmar and people are finally taking action, even if their act of defiance may strip someone of a title. There are also many organizations working to help refugees, including UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief USA , the UNHCR, and more.



Hi, my name is Kathryn Kuhar and I am a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard College studying Government. A fun fact about me is that I’ve lived in Hawaii, California, Belgium, and Turkey.



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