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Inside Story
Why is the world ignoring Myanmar's Rohingya?
They have faced decades of discrimination but the Muslim minority's plight has garnered little international attention.
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2012 09:43

They have been persecuted and discriminated against for decades but few can even pronounce their name let alone know of their plight.

"There is a lot of latent prejudice, racism, whatever you want to call it, inside Burma towards this community and it's playing out right now. It's not over by any means. It's a tinderbox and it could blow up at any time."

- Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch

Buddhist attacks on the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have picked up over the last few weeks following the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in May.

Human rights groups say the security forces are also involved in the targeted attacks, which started in June.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh - but thousands more have been refused entry. For those who do make it across the border their troubles are far from over.

An estimated 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar's Rakhine state with another 200,000 in Bangladesh. They are not recognised by either country.

Myanmar has long faced tensions with many of its ethnic minorities, and the new government has agreed to a ceasefire with many of the groups.

But last week, Thein Sein, the president of Myanmar, told the UN that the solution was either to send millions of Rohingya to another country or to have the UN look after them.

"It is true that we are not Burmese. We are an independent state – Arakan. And Rohingya is one of the races of Arakan not Burma .... They [the Burmese] are the ones who intervened, they are the ones who are foreigners [in] this land, they are the ones who invaded."

- Muhammad Noor, a Rohingya political activist

"We will take responsibility for ethnic nationalities but it is not at all possible to recognise the illegal border-crossing Rohingya who are not of our ethnicity," he said.

He added that the conflict poses a threat to the democratic and economic reforms his government has launched, warning that: "Stability and peace, the democratisation process and the development of the country, which are in transition right now, could be severely affected and much would be lost."

Inside Story asks: Is the plight of the Rohingya being deliberately ignored? Why has the world turned a blind eye to them?

Joining presenter Sami Zeidan to discuss this are guests: Justin Wintle, a historian and author of Perfect Hostage, a biography of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi; Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division; Mohamed Noor, a Rohingya political activist; and Dina Madani of the Muslim Minorities and Communities Department at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

"When the communal violence backlash hit the Rohingya in Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi came out with expressions of sympathy for them, but so far she has said nothing about granting them the right of citizenship, and somebody's got to do that in Myanmar."

Justin Wintle, a historian and author


WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA?

Their history dates back to the early seventh century when Arab Muslim traders settled in the area. The UN estimates that there are about 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar, including people of Bengali heritage who settled centuries ago as well as those who entered the country in recent decades. But the law in Myanmar considers as citizens only those who settled in the country before independence in 1948. Post-independence immigrants are officially considered illegal. Adding to the confusion over who is an illegal immigrant is the large exodus of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh in the 1980s and 1990s because of persecution.

"[We] have urged all member states as part of the Islamic ummah to reach out to our Muslim brothers who are persecuted and to use the international fora to collectively put pressure on Myanmar to stop the violence."

Dina Madani from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

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