RAKHINE STATE, Myanmar — The Malaysian state of Rakhine is the second poorest in the country. It also contains a ghetto comprised of about 4,000 Rohingya — an ethnic Muslim minority group. They have been called one of the most persecuted peoples in the world.
“It’s like a prison without walls,” one habitant explains. The ghetto is blocked off by barricades where armed officials stand each day. No one is allowed in or out without an armed escort.
Violence in Myanmar began in 2012. A Buddhist woman was allegedly raped and murdered by three Muslims. Buddhists planned a retaliation attack that killed 10 Muslims. By the end of the chaos, 200 people were killed. 70 percent of them were Muslim.
In result, 140,000 Rohingya Muslims were driven from their homes, becoming Internationally Displaced People (IDP). Many fled by boat to neighboring countries, earning the name “boat people.” About 15,000 were forced into internment camps.
All Rohingyas are now deemed to be “stateless.. They are not allowed to seek medical attention at hospitals and must make a supervised four-mile trek to a simple medical clinic. Many ghetto dwellers are unemployed. People’s businesses were either forced to close down by the police or were burned down during attacks. Rohingya students have not attended a university since 2012.
There is a bigger movement to erase their existence in the first place. “Rohingya doesn’t exist. Never exist,” says U Than Tien, who is a member of the Emergency Coordination Center. He is in charge of distributing humanitarian assistance to those in poverty.
Families are considered to be “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, and people in the ghettos receive just one 16-ounce can of rice each day. About 1.3 million Rohingya living in Myanmar are unable to vote in elections since the government revoked their citizenship.
The United Nations voiced concern about people in the ghettos and the inability to rebuild their livelihoods. They have no access to the market for trade, fields for farming or the sea to fish. Foreign aid groups are required to get approval from the government in order to reach inhabitants inside the camps.
Human Rights Watch has called the discrimination against Rohingya ethnic Muslims a crime against humanity and an example of ethnic cleansing. It has called upon the Myanmar government to “accept an independent international commission to investigate crimes against humanity in Arakan State, locate victims, and provide redress.”
Neighboring nations have also expressed concern, asking for the abuse to stop and a safe return for displaced Muslims. Malaysia and Indonesia have set up temporary refugee camps for those fleeing Myanmar. The foreign minister of Indonesia held private meetings with Indonesian and Thai officials about the situation and has asked that the Myanmar government allow them to enter the country in order to treat the sick.
Rokhine’s state officials deny that this is ethnic cleansing and say that the government will allow people to leave the camp and find new homes once it is safe for them to do so. Yet for now, they are offering humanitarian assistance for Rohingya’s safety.
While their claims may be false or misleading, added pressure from outside the country should keep the conflicts from resulting in full Rohingya eradication, hopefully before people resort to desperate measures such as radical jihad or holy war.