In Pictures: The perilous journey of Rohingyas in exile

  • 26 Aug 2019

Thousands of Rohingya refugees joined a rally to mark the second anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh, demanding that Myanmar grant them their citizenship and other rights before they return.

A Rohingya Muslim woman holds onto a blanket and rests on the road after collecting aid at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh on December21, 2017. ( AP )

More than one million Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh. On the second anniversary of their exodus, thousands rallied peacefully at the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, demanding Myanmar grant them their citizenship and other rights before they agree to return.

Men, women and children shouted "God is Great, Long Live Rohingya" as they marched at the heart of the world's largest refugee camp to commemorate what they described as "Genocide Day".

Some carried placards and banners reading "Never Again! Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day" and "Restore our citizenship". Prayers were held for the victims of the killings, rape and arson attacks by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist militias. 

Attended by UN officials, the rally came three days after a second failed attempt to repatriate the refugees, which saw not a single Rohingya turn up to return across the border citing fear for their safety and a lack of confidence in Myanmar. 

The Rohingyas have been subjected to violence and persecution for decades and are described as the world's most persecuted minority. They have lived in majority Buddhist Myanmar for more than five centuries.

On August 25 2017, Myanmar sparks a bloody crackdown in Rakhine and nearly 7,000 Rohingya are killed in the first month alone, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). 

There is a mass exodus and they join hundreds of thousands of other Rohingyas who had already sought refuge in Bangladesh, fleeing persecution during the 1970s and 1990s.

In September 2017, the UN human rights high commissioner calls the military operation in Rakhine “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, citing satellite imagery and accounts of extrajudicial killings.

In a televised speech, on September 19, 2017, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi vows to punish the perpetrators of human rights violations in Rakhine but does not address UN accusations of ethnic cleansing by the military.

In that October, during a meeting with US Ambassador Scot Marciel, Myanmar’s  army commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing says Rohingya Muslims are not natives of Myanmar. An investigation begins into the conduct of soldiers that sent the Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

On her first visit to Rakhine in November since the military crackdown, Suu Kyi urges people “not to quarrel”. In the same month Pope Francis visits Myanmar and Bangladesh, avoiding the word “Rohingya”, which is rejected by Myanmar, until meeting refugees in Bangladesh.

In December, two Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are arrested after police invited them to a Yangon restaurant. They were working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine.

The United States imposes sanctions on 13 “serious human rights abusers and corrupt actors” including the general who oversaw the crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims on December 21 2017.

In January 2018, pre-trial hearings begin in the Reuters case, with prosecutors seeking charges under the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.

In February, citing a review of satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Myanmar has bulldozed at least 55 Rohingya villages that were emptied during last year’s violence. And in March 2018, Amnesty International claims that Myanmar’s military is building bases where some Rohingya homes and mosques once stood.

To investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Rakhine, Myanmar establishes a commission on July 30 2018.

In September, the two Reuters journalists are found guilty and jailed for seven years. At the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi, Suu Kyi says in hindsight her government could have handled the situation in Rakhine better.

In November, a Rohingya repatriation effort fails amid protests at refugee camps. No one wanted to return, citing fear and security reasons.

In January 2019, ethnic Rakhine militants launch pre-dawn raids on four police stations in Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state as the country marks Independence Day. The Myanmar army says militant group Arakan Army, which wants more autonomy, took 14 security personnel as "prisoners of war".

Myanmar’s army sets up a military court to investigate its conduct during the 2017 crackdown in March 2019. 

Two Reuters journalists jailed for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar walk out of prison in May. The duo are freed in a presidential amnesty after a vigorous global campaign for their release. Convicted of breaking Myanmar's Official Secrets Act, the two had spent more than 500 days in jail before being set free.

In June, Myanmar imposes an internet blockade in the restive Rakhine state. Authorities order all mobile phone operators to suspend internet data in nine townships across Rakhine and neighbouring Chin State, citing "use of internet activities to coordinate illegal activities".

In August, a joint effort by the UN refugee agency and Bangladesh authorities to launch a new repatriation falls flat with no one turning up to board five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh. Members of Rohingya Muslim families identified for repatriation say they do not want to return to Myanmar unless their citizenship and safety are ensured.