Never accepted as citizens, left with no rights, public services, or identity documents, and forced to flee their homes, Muslim Rohingya are struggling for survival after decades of brutal attacks by the Myanmar government and Buddhist mobs.
"The Rakhine Buddhists are slaughtering us. We are scared for our safety. We had no other choice but to come to Bangladesh."
Those are the words of a Rohingya Muslim woman, crying for help from the international community, in a video received by TRT World. She is one of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have been forced to flee to Bangladesh, leaving everything they had behind in Myanmar.
Thousands of civilians have fled across the border into Bangladesh. More than 27,000 of them have escaped only in the last week.
They are now almost trapped between the Myanmar Army, forcing them to flee, and the Bangladeshi authorities, who are not allowing them into the country.
The Rohingya Muslims are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. They are often attacked by the Myanmar Army and radical Buddhist groups.
“We have been waiting for any kind of help. Then they brought us here and gave us some food. In my group, there were 300 to 400 people," said another woman, who succeeded in fleeing to Bangladesh recently.
"They have attacked our village and set everything on fire. We were helpless. We escaped after we heard the gunshots. Then we jumped into the river and we were in the water for three days. We didn't know where the men or the kids were. They burned everything.”
Who are the Rohingya Muslims?
Rakhine is a northwest state of Myanmar, neighbouring Bangladesh, home to an estimated 800,000 Muslims. Despite the claims of the Rohingya Muslims to an ethnic heritage and historic links to Rakhine, they are viewed as non-indigenous or “illegal immigrants,” with no cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar. Since they are not recognised as citizens of Myanmar, they have almost no access to government services — not even education for their children — which makes them the poorest community in the country.
According to a report published by the UN, the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar are strongly oppressed. They suffer from arbitrary taxation, land confiscation, forced eviction, the destruction of their homes, restrictions on their marriages and restrictions on their access to food.
Serious human rights violations are being committed against the Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state by Myanmar’s security forces another UN report confirms. According to the report, human rights violations committed by the security forces include mass gang-rape and extrajudicial killings – including the brutal beatings and disappearances of babies and young children.
“The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable – what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother's milk? And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein in a statement in February.
“Numerous testimonies collected from people from different village tracts …confirmed that the army deliberately set fire to houses with families inside, and in other cases pushed Rohingya into already burning houses,” stated another UN report, published in February.
“Civilians from minority ethnic groups suffer appalling violations and abuses, including war crimes, at the hands of Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups in the country’s Kachin and the northern Shan states,” says an Amnesty International report based on three recent trips to the conflict area.
According to various estimates, somewhere between 70,000 to 90,000 Rohingya Muslims have been displaced or have fled to Bangladesh in recent years. This isn't the first time in their history, however. In the late 1970s and early 1990s, hundreds of thousands fled violence in Myanmar. Reportedly, more than 500,000 Rohingya are now living mostly in Bangladesh and in other countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.
How did the violations start?
Myanmar — then known as Burma — lived under British colonial rule until 1948. After several periods of intense civil war, in 1962 General Ne Win staged a coup and solidified his position as Burma's military dictator. Any kind of opposition movement were not allowed for decades. Muslim minority, living in the northwest Rakhine state, was particularly affected by the dictatorship’s heavy hand. In 1989, the military junta decided to change the country's name to Myanmar.
Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar have never been given their rights and have been either ignored, not accepted as proper citizens or forced to flee by the government or Buddhist gangs.
In June 2012, ten Muslim pilgrims travelling through the Toungup town of Rakhine were pulled from a bus by a Buddhist mob and murdered. They were accused by the angry mob of murdering a Buddhist woman. The nightmare had begun for the Muslim minority again.
The Myanmar regime has for decades never accepted the Rohingya as citizens, leaving them without any rights, government services or even identity documents. And now they find themselves on the receiving end of a brutal crackdown in response to some small incidents of opposition to the regime. With houses, barns and villages being burned, thousands have been forced to flee; and there are many reports of the elderly and children being murdered.
Lack of investigation
The United States called on Myanmar last month to allow a UN fact-finding mission to investigate the allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The call for an investigation wasn't accepted.
The de facto leader of Myanmar’s civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi, and its foreign minister have rejected the allegations and opposed the UN Human Rights Council mission.
“It's important that the Burmese government allow this fact-finding mission to do its job,” said Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN in New York.
In every minor incident, the number of killed civilians is believed to be in double digits, but due to no investigations being conducted the exact number is not known by the international community.
Turkey’s call for action
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the violence towards the Rohingya on several occasions and urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to put pressure on Myanmar’s government over violence in Rakhine state.
As Muslims around the globe prepare to mark the Eid al Adha holiday on Friday, President Erdogan called on the Muslim world to intensify its efforts to help persecuted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, reaching out to his Mauritanian, Pakistani, Iranian and Qatari counterparts on Thursday.