The plight of the Rohingya Muslims

Shaquib is a One Young World Ambassador from Bangladesh who is passionate about poverty reduction and social enterprise. He works on projects to support young entrepreneurs in making their businesses more profitable and impactful. He is currently interning at theYunus Centre which aims to create and implement social businesses. He also volunteers with CMES to give young people a route out of poverty through vocational training.

The most persecuted people on Earth

The Bangladesh/Myanmar border has become a volatile area because thousands of Rohingyas from are trying to cross the border to seek refuge in Bangladesh. These people have become one of the most persecuted groups in the world.

According to the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Government, and other internationally recognized bodies, the Rohingya have inhabited the Rakhine State of Myanmar since the 16th century. But their history has been complicated by British colonisation, which brought many Muslim Bengalis to the area as labourers, and discriminatory citizenship laws in Myanmar. In 2013 there were nearly 750,000 Rohingyas living in the Rakhine State of Northern Myanmar. There are believed to be several thousand men, women and children stranded at sea searching for safety.

Officially, the Rohingya are unable to claim citizenship in Burma because they are marginalised by a strict nationality law that restricts citizenship to people from an “indigenous race” are eligible. The government allege that the Rohingya Muslims are not indigenous because many of them settled after 1832, when Myanmar became part of the British Empire. Therefore they are "foreign" and ineligible for citizenship. This had lead to an apartheid system of segregation and a lack of recognition in which the Rohingya have no nation-state to call home.

The Rohingya have a young population demographic. In Myanmar, 45% of the population is below the age of 25. The Rohingya have an even younger age profile because they live in mainly rural communities where there are far more children than adults. This means that the majority of the people you see fleeing their homeland are young people: people like you and I, who have dreams, ambitions and hope for their future.

The plight of these people only reached the headlines after a desperate migrants were rescued at sea after months living in squalid conditions. Thousands of migrants remain adrift at sea, waiting to be rescued.

The democratic transition didn't help the Rohingya 

In Myanmar itself, the Rohingyas have been interned in camps by the police forces - supposedly for their own protection from attack from nationalist Buddhist extremists. But many commentators have likened living conditions to concentration camps.

The situation has been getting worse and worse since 2012. Entire villages were ethnically cleansed and at least 100,000 houses were destroyed. In March, a group of Buddhist monks attacked a humanitarian aid agency office and things deteriorated even further. Humanitarian groups like Doctors without Borders were expelled from the country.

Thousands flee these camps in search of a better life, either by sea or by land- both equally perilous. Many fall victim to human traffickers who exploit their desperate situation. Mass graves containing Rohingyas have been found near the Malay-Thai border. 

 

A lot of the anti-Rohingya in the country has been driven by Buddhist nationalist political parties. As seen in the New York Times video from 2014, one of the most powerful Buddhist monks in Burma, Ashin Wirathu. He is quoted to say, “Muslims are like African Catfish, they breed rapidly.’ One of the main ideologies of his notorious 969 movement is to stop Rohingyas from expanding into Buddhist territory - even though Buddhists make up over 90% of the country's population.

Even Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has not spoken up for the Rohingya people. A recent BBC article describes her a 'pragmatic politician', not just a 'human rights activist'. She cannot win the upcoming election without the support of Buddhist nationalists. Some suggest that she needs to avoid inflaming tensions in order to win the election in November - and prepare the ground for the complex negotiations on power that will follow.

What can young people do?

I believe that this human rights issue needs to be resolved because every human being has the right to live, and the right to a place to call their home. I believe that my government should lighten its stance towards the Rohingya and allow them to come into Bangladesh, instead of turning them back with food and medicine. Similarly, the government should improve the conditions of the refugee camps and build more to cater for anyone who needs them. International donors and aid agencies should also be notified about the overall situations so that they can try their best to improve this situation. 

As young people, we can influence our democratically elected decision makers to support young people facing these terrible situations. To stay silent is to let injustices continue.