Since August 2017, the world has watched as the Rohingya were forced to flee a humanitarian crisis, military violence, and what the United Nations has called an active genocide. The international community has since questioned if this group will ever be able to return home.
The Rohingya are no stranger to discrimination and violence. As a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, a prominently Buddhist country, they have faced institutionalized discrimination for years. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (C.F.R.), this is done through the implementation of discriminatory policies and the loss of rights and citizenship. Rohingya are not afforded citizenship under Myanma law, meaning they are unable to legally access resources and rights. According to Human Rights Watch, “under the 1982 Citizenship Law, [the Rohingya] are one of the largest stateless populations in the world.” The C.F.R. further explains that the lack of Rohingya citizenship rights has allowed Myanmar’s government to implement discriminatory laws with impunity, including restrictions on marriage, employment, education, and freedom of movement. Along with the institutionalized discriminatory policies, the C.F.R. states that the Rohingya’s home, Rakhine State, is Myanmar’s least developed state, with a poverty rate of 78% compared to the 37.5% national average.
This humanitarian crisis only worsened with the conflict and violence that arose in 2017. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.), “On August 25, 2017, … violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, driving more than 742,000 to seek refuge in Bangladesh.” Villages were burnt down, leaving behind few remnants of what was once a community. Thousands of Rohingya were killed, raped, or forced to flee their homes. In 2018, U.N. investigators accused Myanmar’s government of committing these mass killings as an attempt to commit an ethnic genocide.
Many Rohingya fled to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh in search of safety and shelter. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, “[a]n estimated 12,000 reached Bangladesh during the first half of 2018,” the “vast majority” of which, the U.N.H.C.R. says, “are women and children, and more than 40 per cent are under age 12.” With an influx of Rohingya seeking refuge, countries like Bangladesh are finding it difficult to make room in camps and provide adequate aid, shelter, water, food, protection, and basic necessities. According to Human Rights Watch, “about 900,000 Rohingya are currently living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, most of whom fled Myanmar since August 2017 to escape the military’s crimes against humanity and possible genocide.”
Alongside the ongoing violence and poor conditions, Human Rights Watch estimates there are 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Rakhine who “are subject to government persecution and violence, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, health care, education, and livelihoods.” The burning of villages and atrocities committed against civilians have also worsened since 2017. Many Rohingya fear they will be thrown in jail if they return home, subject to further violence and possibly death at the hands of the Myanma government.
Like many other refugees and forced migrants, the Rohingya face numerous challenges in returning home. According to Susan F. Martin’s article, “Forced Migration and Refugee Policy,” notable causes of displacement include persecution, human rights violations, armed conflict, natural hazards and political instability. Social and political conditions in a group’s country of origin can make returning difficult. For the Rohingya, the poverty rate in their state makes earning a living complicated, especially amidst the discriminatory policies and loss of rights they are already subject to. Other obstacles include minimal housing because of the destruction of many communities. Rebuilding entire communities and housing would take years and economic resources that many governments and migrants do not have. These conditions are just some of the reasons many Rohingya refugees are afraid to consider returning to Rakhine State.
The Rohingya have been displaced for years now. Many fear they will never see a life outside of the often makeshift refugee camps they have fled to for safety. Meanwhile, the countries hosting them are relying on aid and supplies from other states to ensure the Rohingya have the basic necessities for survival. As the deplorable conditions for and violence against the Rohingya persist, the international community must put pressure on Myanmar to put an end to its evident attempt at ethnic cleansing and allow the Rohingya to return home.