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International Responses to Myanmar’s Rohingya and Dictatorship Crises

TW: violence, sexual assault, murder

The Escalation of Instability Within Myanmar & its Bordering Countries

Discriminatory policies have plagued Myanmar’s socio-political landscape since its independence in 1948 (then known as Burma) when the citizenship law’s exclusion of the Rohingya people was developed to strip the ethnic group of their access to full citizenship rights under the military junta in the 1980s. This led to hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya, who continue to be a stateless population, fleeing the country’s predominantly Buddhist landscape to find shelter from persecution either in Bangladesh or daring the journey by sea to countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

The nation’s governments have repeatedly denied recognition of the Rohingya as one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, rendering them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even when the Rohingya’s historical roots can be traced back centuries in the country. Renewed violence of rape, murder, and arson against the Rohingya minority in 2017 followed when the militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked police and army posts. Myanmar’s claim on their effort to reintroduce stability within their western region – where most of the Rohingya, an estimated 1 million, resided in Rakhine State – through brutal campaigns destroying hundreds of villages was condemned by the United Nation for its “genocidal intent”.

Given Myanmar’s history of institutionalized discrimination against “the most persecuted minority in the world” through suppression on marriage, employment, religious choice, and other matters, Rakhine State’s underdevelopment with its 78% poverty rate (compared to the national average of 37.5%) does not come as a surprise. After Myanmar’s 2017 military campaigns against the Rohingya forced nearly 700,000 to leave the country and killed at least 6,700 in the first month, the decades of exploitation and persecution against the ethnic group – and now those of other ethnic origins – have only exacerbated in the face of the country’s February 2021 coup d’etat by its military junta (the Tatmadaw) led by Senior General Min Aung Hliang that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The gradual shift towards democracy within Myanmar has halted under the country’s military dictatorship, which has waged war against its own people. There have been thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests, torture, and scorched-earth campaigns with at least 1,600 people killed and over 8,700 people still remaining in detention. While the coup internally displaced over 638,000 Burmese people and worsened the drug and human trafficking crises within the country, its repercussions transcended borders in impacting countries like India and Indonesia due to an influx of refugees attempting to escape the collapsing economy, widespread hunger, and the hardships of COVID-19.

More than 900,000 of the Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh, many staying within the crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Refugees face a contaminated water supply and a high potential of disease outbreak alongside the threat of exploitation and sexual enslavement. As is the case in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, the Rohingya also have no legal status and are denied employment, education, and health care: in Cox’s Bazar, nearly 400,000 children lack access to education. Moreover, they are often locked up in immigration detention centers or neglected to die on boats, trapped at sea for months; several nations have used the pandemic as an excuse to push back boats carrying refugees and put restrictions on aid. When refugees do reach a neighbouring country, the risk of exploitation is high.