March 11, 2006
BBC News

Burma's Forgotten Rohingya Muslims

They have been called one of the world's most persecuted people. Some argue that they are also one of the most forgotten.

The Rohingya people of western Burma's Arakan State are forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission and have no legal right to own land or property.

Not only that but even though groups of them have been living in Burma for hundreds of years, they are also denied citizenship by the country's military government.

For decades this Muslim group of ethnic-Indo origins have been considered the lowest of the low in this mainly Buddhist country.

In addition to their almost total lack of legal rights many have been regularly beaten by police, forced to do slave labour and jailed for little or no reason.

In 1992, 250,000 Rohingyas, which is a third of their population, fled over Burma's border into Bangladesh to escape the persecution. Fourteen years later more than 20,000 of them are still in the same refugee camps and around 100,000 more are living illegally in the surrounding area. . . .


Arakan Rohingya Co-operation Council

Chris Lewa, "The Plight of Burma's Stateless, Rohingya Muslims," Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, June 2003

[The Navy was accused of pushing as many as 992 boat people back into the sea between December 18 and 30 after they were captured on Thai territorial waters in the Andaman Sea, according to the Bangkok-based Arakan Project.--"About 500 missing Rohingyas might have drowned," Nation (Thailand), January 20, 2009]

[We are talking about quite possibly the most neglected people in Asia, or anywhere else. They call themselves Rohingyas, a Muslim minority from Burma, 30,000 of whom have been so cruelly persecuted by their country's military junta, in large measure because of their religion, that they have chosen to flee over the border to live in a refugee camp that they themselves built, without the help of the United Nations or anybody else.

They are discriminated against because they are Muslims in a Buddhist country; because they tend to have darker skin than most Burmese (a senior Burmese diplomat described them recently as "dark brown" and "ugly as ogres"), and because of a complex history of resistance to central control (they sided with the British in the Second World War instead of the Japanese, whom the majority of Burmese favoured). They find themselves stateless slaves in the country where they were born. They cannot move from one village to another without permission from the local military authorities; they cannot marry or have children without permission; they are helpless to resist as their land is confiscated bit by bit and given to Buddhist settlers brought in from the cities; they are forced to work the land that has been stolen from them, without pay; they are forced to do all the menial labour that the military might require, from building roads to cutting grass; and they are not allowed to worship freely. After nightfall, when their religion demands that they go to the mosque and pray, they are not allowed to leave their homes. And there is a policy clearly aimed at the erosion of Islam in Arakan state: anyone who is caught performing any repairs on a mosque, from fixing a roof to painting a wall, is punished with jail and a fine.--John Carlin, "The terrifying voyage of Burma's boat people," Independent, November 24, 2009]

back button