Inside Story

The Rohingya: A humanitarian crisis

Does a solution to the persecution and discrimination of one of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities lie within its own borders?

The UN calls Myanmar’s Rohingya community one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. It has made an appeal for more than $30m to get aid to displaced Rohingya in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.

Legal action must be taken against [Myanmar] .…Demonstrations are going on all around the world and condemnation from every government is coming but persecution is still going on. I urge the summit in Mecca to take a very strong and positive action against [Myanmar].”

– Mohamed Noor, a Rohingya political activist

More than a million Rohingya are currently caught in a cycle of violence and poverty. They are without a country to call their own after being denied citizenship in Myanmar under a law that was passed 30 years ago.

Tens of thousands of them, mostly Muslims, are now living in makeshift camps in Myanmar after clashes with Buddhist locals.

Hundreds of thousands more are being denied access to aid in neighbouring Bangladesh, where an estimated 30,000 registered Rohingya refugees are living in UN camps.

In June, dozens of people were killed in ethnic clashes sparked by reports of a Buddhist Rakhine woman allegedly being raped and murdered by three Rohingya Muslim men. The ensuing violence forced around 80,000 Rohingya to flee their homes.

Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities but the latest clashes appear to have deepened long-held prejudices against the Rohingya.

Al Jazeera recently gained exclusive access to camps around Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state.

It is the intention of the [Myanmar] government to force the Rohingya out of their ancestral homeland … but in order to have a solution we have to first democratise [Myanmar] … because [Myanmar] is not a democracy – the military junta can do anything.”

– Tridib Deb, the co-chair of the Bangabandhu Lawyers Council, UK

Oo Ku Maar Ka, the head of Gade Chay monastery, told our correspondent Florence Looi: “They [the Rohingya] are very cruel, very scary. They have a bad character like a devil. These devils come from another country, Bangladesh.”

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia is hosting an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to discuss, among other things, the Rohingya issue.

The Saudi cabinet last week condemned the violence against Rohingya Muslims, and King Abdullah ordered $50m in aid to be sent to the community.

Inside Story asks: Why is this community such a pariah group? And why is the world staying silent about it?

Joining presenter Laura Kyle for the discussion are guests: Muhammad Noor, a Rohingya political activist; Tridib Deb, the co-chair of the Banga Bandhu Lawyers Council in the UK; and Benjamin Zawacki, a Myanmar researcher for Amnesty International Bangkok.

“This [Rohingya persecution] is truly systemic. It’s part of Myanmar’s legal and social system to discriminate against the Rohingya on the basis of their ethnicity … all the facets of life are affected by a system that codifies and makes lawful their persecution and discrimination.”

Benjamin Zawacki, a Myanmar researcher for Amnesty International


  • Myanmar has long faced tensions with many of its ethnic minorities, with the new government agreeing to a ceasefire with many of them
  • Many in Myanmar do not recognise the Rohingya as legitimate settlers
  • The Rohingya are not recognised by either Myanmar and Bangladesh
  • Myanmar’s President Thein Sein says refugee camps or deportation is the “solution”
  • Bangladesh recently ordered three charities to stop providing aid to Rohingya