Refugee Crisis in Southeast Asia: Myanmar By: Melanie Bautista

Although people are progressively becoming more educated, all too often certain minority groups continue to be targeted for reasons as senseless as race, gender, religion, etc. Southeast Asia is no exception. The height of the refugee crisis in Myanmar occured in 2015, yet the devastations of displacement and discrimination continue to the present day. This issue is not widely known, giving it all the more reason to be brought to light.

Myanmar is a country to the east of India in Southeast Asia. It is comprised of a majority of ⅔ of Buddhists. Its minority group, the Muslim Rohingya makes up the remaining ⅓ of Myanmar’s population. This minority practices a version of sunni Islam which differs culturally, religiously, and linguistically from the Buddhists. They occupy the western area of Myanmar. Although they have lived in this country for hundreds of years, they are still viewed as illegal Bengali immigrants. They have been denied basic human rights since 1948, when Burma (Now called Myanmar) was declared independent state.

As unbelievable as it may seem, the Rohingya are not considered citizens due to a law passed in 1982 declaring them stateless. Some are given white cards that provide temporary citizenship, yet sometimes those are not even recognized as valid. Poverty encapsulates this area of Myanmar. With no job opportunities, rights or even recognition, this minority is trapped. This has caused this area of this country to be the most underdeveloped. The government of Myanmar was accused of “ethnic cleansing” in 2012. A Rohingya man was accused of raping a Buddhist woman, leading to a killing rampage of many Rohingya. To most of these victims, fleeing the country is their only hope at thriving.

Refugees flee to Bangladesh over land or they cross overseas to reach Indonesia, Thailand or Malaysia. Though the road to safety is not an easy one. The boat ride is often dangerous. Perfectly described by Amnesty International’s Kate Schuetze, “The fact that thousands of Rohingya prefer a dangerous boat journey they may not survive to staying in Myanmar speaks volumes about the conditions they face there.” 90% of refugees go to Malaysia however, they receive no legal status. Bangladesh has at least 33,000 refugees but their internment camps are in bad shape. Thailand is usually used as a transitionary locations for refugees and sadly, human trafficking takes place here. Indonesia is the least occupied by Rohingyas, although those who flee there are given protection.

Although this crisis hit its peak in 2015, the violence worsened in late 2016, continuing into early 2017. Rohingya were blamed for attacking security at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. This lead to deadly fighting between the groups. Even though the National League For Democracy is in power, the are extremely hesitant to aid the Rohingya. Protecting them would mean losing support from the Buddhist majority. Refugee crises are as relevant as ever, and awareness is the birth of change.