Talha Sadiq, Blog Writer

The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority living in the Rakhine region of western Myanmar. The Rohingya have faced institutionalized discrimination by the state for decades. These stateless people are seen by the Government of Myanmar as refugees from bordering Bangladesh; however, early Muslim settlements in the region can be traced back to the seventh century. Today there are an estimated 810,000 people, mostly Rohingya, living without citizenship in Myanmar and thus especially susceptible to persecution.

Since the military junta took over in 1962, violence against minority groups including the Rohingya has risen. To disempower the minority group further, Rohingya people face strict restrictions on travel, education and ownership of property and land. For authorities in Myanmar, the Rohingya as an ethnic group, do not exist. In the last national census, they were not listed among the 100 ethnicities found in the region.

Ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people is aggravated by systemic oppression of minorities across the region. In 2009, Thailand refused to accept Rohingya refugees who appeared off its coast. Since 2012, tension and violence in the region has escalated against the Rohingya. Security forces and authorities have been aiding attacks on villages, schools and mosques by Buddhist mobs. As a result, hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and over 140,000 people have been displaced.

Due to the appalling conditions in refugee camps and in the Rakhine region in general, thousands of Rohingya are jeopardizing their lives by crossing the sea to seek refuge in other countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, which have refused so far to grant asylum. Thailand and Malaysia have agreed to provide temporary shelter to the “boat people”; however, according to international law, these countries must abide by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to rescue refugees. Though temporary shelter is better than no protection at all, dignified and safe access to refugee status determination procedures needs to be ensured.

Governments of neighbouring countries along with international aid agencies have failed to protect refugees, some of them as young as 3 years old. Recently, a number of mass graves were discovered by the Malaysian authorities containing hundreds of bodies of suspected Rohingya refugees. As of this month, according to the International Organization for Migration (IMO), 8,000 additional refugees are stranded at sea. The unwelcoming stance of the international community is making the crisis worse. The international community needs to step up and increase political pressure on Myanmar to help relieve this crisis and improve the lives of the Rohingya people.

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