Ro­hingya ex­pe­ri­enced a his­tory of per­se­cu­tion

The Star Malaysia - - World -

BANGKOK: Some 400,000 Ro­hingya have fled Myanmar, cross­ing the bor­der to Bangladesh in waves fol­low­ing a mil­i­tary crack­down.

It is the lat­est chap­ter in a long and tu­mul­tuous his­tory of the Ro­hingya, the world’s largest stateless pop­u­la­tion.

Be­fore the most re­cent surge of vi­o­lence, there were more than one mil­lion Ro­hingya in Myanmar’s res­tive Rakhine State.

But the ques­tions of who they are, how many live in Myanmar and when they ar­rived is hotly dis­puted, highly emo­tive and be­hind much of the cur­rent un­rest.

Many of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity trace their lin­eage in Myanmar back gen­er­a­tions, but were ef­fec­tively stripped of their ci­ti­zen­ship by the for­mer junta and are de­monised among the Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion as il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Here is a brief his­tory of Myanmar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lims:

When did they first ar­rive?

By some ac­counts, they are de­scen­dants of Arab, Turk­ish or Mon­gol traders and sol­diers who in the 15th cen­tury mi­grated to Rakhine State, pre­vi­ously called the King­dom of Arakan.

Other his­to­ri­ans say they em­i­grated from Bangladesh in sev­eral waves, a widely held view among most Burmese.

For cen­turies the small Mus­lim mi­nor­ity lived peace­fully along­side Bud­dhists in the in­de­pen­dent king­dom; some were even ad­vis­ers to Bud­dhist roy­als.

Up­heaval en­sued from the late 18th cen­tury.

In 1784, the king­dom was con­quered by the Burmese and later by the Bri­tish fol­low­ing the first An­glo-Burmese war of 1824-1826.

Un­der Bri­tish rule, a large num­ber ar­rived to work as farm­ers and later as mil­i­tary recruits.

“In the 1830s, there was a mas­sive in­flux of Mus­lim peas­ants from neig­bour­ing Ben­gal, mostly to work in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor,” said So­phie Bois­seau du Rocher, South-- East Asia ex­pert at the French In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions.

By 1912, more than 30% of the pop­u­la­tion of Arakan state were Mus­lim, up from 5% in 1869, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish cen­sus data cited by his­to­rian Jacques Lei­der.

When did tensions start?

Tensions be­tween the Ro­hingya Mus­lims and the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity date back to the be­gin­ning of Bri­tish rule in 1824.

As part of their di­vide-and-rule strat­egy, Bri­tish colonists favoured Mus­lims at the ex­pense of other groups. They re­cruited them as sol­diers dur­ing World War II, pit­ting them against Bud­dhists aligned with the Ja­panese as the war played out on Burmese soil.

“Both armies, Bri­tish and Ja­panese, ex­ploited the fric­tions and an­i­mos­ity in the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion to fur­ther their own mil­i­tary aims,” said Moshe Ye­gar, au­thor of a book about Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in South-East Asia.

Their sta­tus was for­ti­fied in 1947 when a new con­sti­tu­tion was drafted, en­shrin­ing them with full le­gal and vot­ing rights – which would be later stripped and ren­der them stateless.

Rakhine has a poverty rate near­ing 80%, dou­ble the na­tional av­er­age, kin­dling re­sent­ment over eth­nic claims to the area.

What hap­pened un­der the junta?

A 1962 mil­i­tary coup ush­ered in a new era of re­pres­sion and bru­tal­ity. The coun­try’s eth­nic mi­nori­ties like the Ro­hingya did not fare well.

Most were ef­fec­tively ren­dered stateless in 1982 when the junta is­sued a new law on ci­ti­zen­ship, re­quir­ing mi­nori­ties to prove they lived in Myanmar prior to the first An­glo-Burmese war in 1823 to ob­tain na­tion­al­ity.

Af­ter the junta was dis­solved in 2011, the coun­try saw a rise in Bud­dhist ex­trem­ism which fur­ther side­lined the Ro­hingya and marked the be­gin­ning of the lat­est era of tensions.

The 20th cen­tury saw a se­ries of mil­i­tary crack­downs on the group: in 1978 and 1991-92, which prompted hun­dreds of thou­sands to flee to Bangladesh.

Some were sent back by Dhaka, and the United Na­tions ques­tioned the sup­pos­edly “vol­un­tary” na­ture of the repa­tri­a­tions.

What’s be­hind lat­est vi­o­lence?

They have been sub­jected to re­stric­tions on move­ment, em­ploy­ment and ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices since an­other out­break of vi­o­lence in 2012.

Tensions mounted again in Oc­to­ber 2016, when a small and pre­vi­ously un­known mil­i­tant group – the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA) – staged a se­ries of deadly at­tacks on mil­i­tary forces.

The army re­sponded with a mas­sive crack­down, spark­ing a new ex­o­dus of refugees to Bangladesh.

On Aug 25, ARSA again launched an early morn­ing at­tack on army in­stal­la­tions in Rakhine, trig­ger­ing a bru­tal mil­i­tary cam­paign.

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