August 25 marks the fifth anniversary of a brutal repression by the Myanmar military forced more than 700,000 Rohingya flee Rakhine State in Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh. Today, that number is over one million.
The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who have lived in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for centuries. However, Myanmar does not recognize them as an official ethnic group, making them the largest identified stateless community in the world.
According to the United Nations, there are around 600,000 Rohingyas left in Rakhine State, while almost a million of them are in neighboring countries, mainly Bangladesh. The UN has described the Rohingya as “the most persecuted minority in the world”.
The Ethnic Groups of Myanmar
In 1982, a citizenship law excluded the Rohingya as one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups and barred them from citizenship, effectively rendering them stateless.
As a result, Rohingya families have been deprived of their basic rights and protection, which has left them vulnerable to exploitation, sexual and gender-based violence and abuse.
According to citizenship lawcitizenship was granted to people residing in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, who could trace their family residence back to before 1823. This created categories of citizenship, but Rohingya were not included.
Myanmar nationalists believe the Rohingya are Bengalis who immigrated to Myanmar illegally during British rule of the Indian subcontinent.
Without reliable census data, it is difficult to accurately map the ethnic distribution of Myanmar’s population of 50 million.
However, some of Myanmar’s ethnic groups include Bamar, Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Kachin, Chin, Karenni, Mon, Wa, and Kokang Chinese. The government does not recognize the Rohingyas.
Ongoing deportation of Rohingyas
The Rohingyas have been persecuted by the Burmese military since the country’s independence in the late 1940s.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 300,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh in the 1990s. Violent clashes in Rakhine State continued in 2012 and 2015, displacing more Rohingya.
In October 2016, following an attack on some members of the Myanmar Border Police, the military launched a crackdown on the Rohingya, blaming them for the rebellion. This sent around 87,000 Rohingyas rushing to Bangladesh for refuge.
The most recent military crackdown began on August 25, 2017, when an armed Rohingya group attacked military posts in Rakhine. The Myanmar military reportedly burned dozens of Rohingya villages and fired indiscriminately at unarmed men, women and children.
In September 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the military operation in Myanmar was a “classic example of ethnic cleansing”.
In November 2019, the International Criminal Court approved a prosecution request to investigate crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar’s military.
Today, there are 980,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar in neighboring countries.
Around 936,000 Rohingya refugees live in Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh, camps that have grown to be one of the largest and most densely populated in the world.
Life in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps
Nearly a million Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps face hard living conditions and are constantly threatened by natural disasters.
The camps are overcrowded, lack adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities and are poorly lit.
Heavy monsoon rains have triggered landslides and flash floods in refugee camps, displacing thousands of Rohingya.
In March 2021, a serious Fire in the camps burned down thousands of shelters and worsened the crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on this vulnerable population, including increasing food insecurity.
Since May this year, the Cox’s Bazar camps have also seen an increase in dengue fever cases, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the WHO, there are 44 primary health centers and 90 health posts in the camps. Skin diseases and respiratory tract infections account for almost half of medical consultations.