Rohingya Refugee Crisis


Since the twelfth century, the Rohingya community have lived within Myanmar. However, they were traditionally viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Due to their societal status, they weren’t awarded citizenship rights and were therefore viewed as stateless. In recent years, the Rohingya community have been subjected to professed crimes against humanity which have labelled them as “the most persecuted minority in the world”.

The persecution that the Rohingya people faced resulted in institutionalised discrimination. Some of the restrictions included the right to get married, secure employment and the right to an education. Due to this, many Rohingya people fled to Southeast Asian countries, which primarily included Bangladesh. Within Southeast Asia, they suffered immensely due to poor living conditions and scarce resources. 

The Rohingya population couldn’t secure full citizenship in any country and were often sent back to Myanmar. This has resulted in a cycle of lost rights, land and identity for the Rohingya population. In the recent trial of Aung San Suu Kyi in the International Court of Justice, Suu Kyi and her government denied the genocide of Rohingya people by stating that there was “no genocide in Rakhine”.


Where: Rakhine State, Myanmar

Population: 1 – 2 million

Deaths: At least 2,000

Refugees/Displaced peoples: 1 million

Trapped in Camps: Approximately 140,000 people 

Bangladesh: 742,000 people are trapped in Bangladesh with little rights. Majority of these refugees are women and children. Approximately 40% of them are under the age of twelve.

Kutupalong Refugee Settlement: 600,000 people living in an area of just 13 square kilometres

UNHCR: The United Nations have provided significant resources to Rohingya refugees, as well as providing assistance during the monsoon season (May-September).


Key actors

In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi refused to acknolwedge the ‘ethnic cleansing’ and clear persecution of the Rohingya people by the majority Buddhist state. This genocide specifically targeted Rohingya Muslims and left more than 100,000 fleeing their home.

In Bangladesh the huge influx of Rohingya refugees has created a humanitarian crisis. This has resulted in refugee camps reaching full capacity and resources running scarce. There are approximately 900,000 Rohingya refugees currently within Bangladesh and approximately 1.2 million people within the country are in need of support due to this crisis.

Within Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, the influx of Rohingya refugees was not widely accepted and this resulted in limited human rights being granted to the fleeing refugees.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) repeatedly attacked Myanmar border police and military. It is made up of both trained militants and local Rohingya men. This Rohingya insurgent group is active in northern Rakhine State, however they have been denied citizenship and are deemed illegal settlers from Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and the Arakan Project have appealed to international leaders to apply pressure to Myanmar’s government.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned Myanmar authorities of the ethnic cleansing which is apparently taking place, and proclaimed that the crisis has “spiraled into the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency”. The UN Security Council has called for an end to the violence, but are yet to impose sanctions on Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate (1991) and the State Chancellor of Myanmar has received backlash due to ‘overlooking’ the Rohingya genocide within her country. Once known as a humanitarian who spent years fighting to bring democracy to once military-led Myanmar, is currently being questioned globally on her true values via a court hearing by the international court of justice.

Timeline of the crisis

The Burma Citizenship Law stripped the rights of all Rohingya, effectively making them ‘stateless’ in their own country.

During this period the Rohingya were able to register as temporary residents with identification cards which gave them limited rights.

Three Rohingya individuals were accused of allegedly raping and killing a Buddhist girl. As a result of this, a revenge attack took place which left ten Muslims murdered.

Religious violence in Rakhine State leaves over two hundred Rohingya dead and close to 150,000 homeless.

Forty-three Muslims were murdered due to a “Muslim extermination” which was led by Buddhist monks. This caused a mass violent outburst, causing six Rohingya Muslims to be arrested. Buddhists were not charged for their role in the violence.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya people have fled, causing them to be displaced in Myanmar. This began to cause international tension and the Human Rights Watch reported that many people didn’t survive fleeing the country.

A UN national census enabled Rohingya to identify as Rohingya; however, this was backtracked after Buddhist Nationalists threatened to boycott the census.

The UN High Commissioner demands action takes place as Rohingya Muslims are continuously suffering from human rights violations and discrimination.

A constitutional referendum gave the Myanmar government the ability to eradicate Rohingya identification cards and revoke their right to vote.

Approximately 8,000 Rohingya Muslims are stranded at sea whilst trying to find a safer place of residence.

Assaults on border guards and Myanmar officials in Rakhine State led to nine police officers killed. A military crackdown ensued, which sent an estimated 87,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

The military killed up to 100 Rohingya civilians in retaliation to two soldiers losing their lives in a clash. Villages were torched and approximately 21,000 Rohingya people ran to Bangladesh for safety.

ARSA attacks on at least 20 police outposts killed 12 security officers led to military ‘clearance operations’.These operations included burning down whole Rohingya villages, and triggered a mass migration of Rohingya to Bangladesh.

Approximately 20 refugees lose their lives whilst fleeing to Bangladesh for their safety, as a boat capsizes.

The United Nations stated that ethnic cleansing has taken place in Myanmar. Due to this, in just one week, approximately 270,000 Rohingya individuals fled the country.

The United Nations have estimated that approximately half a million Rohingya’s have become refugees. Many of these are starving children and refugee camps are full.

The Canadian President, Justin Trudeau, demands for Aung San Suu Kyi to help the Rohingya people. Others such as, Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu urge Suu Kyi to protect the Muslim people. However, Suu Kyi refused to comment on any of the atrocities taking place.

After circulating news of security officers killing innocent Muslims, raping young women and setting houses on fire; Suu Kyi finally broke her silence. Her announcement included her wanting to “…find out why this exodus is happening.” This left many disappointed by her leadership.

The Myanmar government announces that approximately 200 Muslim villages situated in Rakhine have been abandoned. The UN Secretary-General calls the crisis “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a … human rights nightmare.”

Global leaders and international organizations promise $344 million to fund humanitarian relief programs for the Rohingya refugees. However, the figure was still $90 million less than what the UN needed to adequately address the crisis. The United States also threaten to sanction Myanmar, adding that US aid cannot be used to fund the Burmese military’s campaign against the Rohingya.

Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar to return hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. This agreement has been criticised, as it is unclear whether Myanmar is in a position to house Rohingya with no threat of persecution.

An estimated 4,000 people have been driven from their homes following
renewed fighting between the Myanmar army and rebels in Myanmar’s northern-most
state, Kachin state.

Myanmar announces a deal with two UN agencies for the return of refugees from Bangladesh. However, Rohingya have concerns that the agreement is not comprehensive enough to guarantee their safety

Myanmar fires military general Maj Men Maung Maung Soe, who was implicated by the EU to have been in charge of a series of violent acts against the Rohingya

A UN report accuses six Myanmar generals of genocide and war crimes and calls for them to face trial at the International Criminal Court. Myanmar rejects the findings.

Two Reuters journalists are sentenced to seven years in jail for violation of state secrecy laws. They believe that their reporting on the military’s violence against the Rohingya led to their framing by the police.

The International Criminal Court launches its investigation into the Rohingya crisis

Myanmar and Bangladesh agree to start repatriation of Rohingya refugees. This announcement comes less than a week after the UN warned that the genocide was still in effect in the region.

Two years since the last exodus of Rohingya refugees, over 900,000 individuals remain in Bangladesh. They live in bamboo homes, unchanged from their first arrival. Many of them survive off humanitarian aid and are unable to find employment.

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