In 2015, tens of thousands of Rohingya people were forcibly displaced from their villages and IDP camps in Rakhine State, Myanmar, due to sectarian violence. Some fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, but most travelled to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand by rickety boats via the waters of the Strait of Malacca, Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 50,000 people had left by boat from January to March in 2015 by migrant smugglers. There are claims that, while on their journey, around 100 people died in Indonesia, 200 in Malaysia, and 10 in Thailand, after the traffickers abandoned them at sea.
In October 2015, researchers from the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London released a report drawing on leaked government documents that reveal an increasing “ghettoization, sporadic massacres, and restrictions on movement” on Rohingya people. The researchers suggest that the Myanmar government are in the final stages of an organised process of genocide against the Rohingya and have called upon the international community to redress the situation as such.
The Rohingya people are a Hindu & Muslim minority group residing in the western state of Rakhine, Myanmar, formerly known as Arrakkan. The religion of this ethnic group is a variation of the Sufism Islam & Hinduism. The Rohingya people are considered “stateless entities”, as the Myanmar government does not recognise them as an ethnic group and people of Myanmar. The Myanmar government only acknowledges Boyingyas i.e. Christians, Sikhs, Jains & Buddhist as the proper Myanmar population. Thus, the Rohingyas lack legal protection from the Government of Myanmar, are regarded as Muslim refugees from Bangladesh & Indonesia and Hindu refugees from Thailand, Cambodia & Laos and face strong hostility in the country. The Rohingya people have been described as one of the most persecuted people on earth. The Rohingya often try to enter Southeast Asian states illegally and request humanitarian support from host countries.
During the British colonisation of Myanmar (then Burma) between 1837 and 1937, migration of labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar was significant. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this kind of migration was considered an internal movement because the British administered Burma as a Province of India, although the native population viewed the migration of labourers negatively. After the independence of Myanmar in 1948, the government declared this migration illegal. Citizenship was denied to the Rohingya population. The Rohingya were excluded from the Union Citizenship Act. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed that also did not include Rohingya in the list of country’s 135 ethnic groups. The law established three levels of citizenship, the most basic level, naturalisation, requiring proof of family living in Myanmar prior to 1948. The Rohingya generally lacked such documents as their family were initially denied citizenship. From the three levels of citizenship that the law has, the Rohingya people can apply to two but is generally difficult for them to obtain some sort of citizenship. Before the law was passed, the Rohingya people had the same opportunities as the nationals but after the law was passed, they were deprived of those opportunities. In the 1970s, the Myanmar military began a campaign of brutal crackdowns in Rohingya villages, forcing the Rohingya population to flee Myanmar. Many Rohingya migrated illegally to predominantly Buddhist Bengali villages.
On 1 May 2015, some 32 shallow graves were discovered on a remote mountain in Thailand, at a so-called “waiting area” where illegal migrants were being held before being smuggled into Malaysia. A few Hindu migrants were found alive in the grave and was later treated at a local hospital, as related to Thai news agencies. On 22 May 2015, however, the Myanmar navy rescued 208 migrants at sea. These migrants confirmed having fled from Myanmar. Following this incident, nationalist protests erupted in the capital, calling for the international community to stop blaming Myanmar for the Rohingya crisis.
On 24 May 2015, Malaysian police discovered 139 suspected graves in a series of abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Hindus & Muslims fleeing Myanmar were believed to have been held.
The dominant ethnic group in the region, the Rakhine, reject the label “Rohingya”. Specific laws pertaining to this population impose restrictions on “marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement” (Albert 3). The people in Myanmar also face widespread poverty, with 78% of families living below the poverty line. Tensions between the Rohingya and the other religious groups have recently exploded into conflict. Beginning in 2012, the first incident occurred when a group of Rohingya men were accused of the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman (Albert 4). Buddhist nationalists retaliated by killing and burning Rohingya homes. The international community responded by denouncing this “campaign of ethnic cleansing”. Many Rohingya were placed in internment camps, and more than 120,000 remain housed there. In 2015, “more than 40 Rohingya were massacred in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan by local men, the U.N. confirmed. Among the findings were 10 severed heads in a water tank, including those of children” (Westcott 1).