Rohingyan history dates back several centuries ago to the Arakan state (modern state of Rakhine) in western Burma where they were one of the indigenous peoples of the region. The earliest recorded settlers in Arakan were Indo-Aryan groups that left the Ganges Valley as early as 3000 BC. The Rohingyas, whose language is Indo-Aryan, from the Bengali-Assamese branch, are descendants from these earliest inhabitants of the region. Up until the tenth century AD the dominant culture in Arakan was Indian with Arakan rulers being mostly Hindus and later rulers being Muslim corresponding with the introduction of Islam to the region in the seventh century. The Rohingyas’ dominance in the region ended with the arrival of the largely Buddhist Rakhine from central Burma around 1000 AD. However, the area of Arakan remained formally independent of Burma up until the end of the 18th century.
The historical record of the Rohingya is important because the Burmese government has over the past half a century labeled the Rohingya as ‘Foreigners’ or ‘illegal immigrants’ in the state of Burma denying them citizenship. The persecution and hostile attitudes towards the Rohingyas are informed by a narrative that the Rohingyas do not have historical ties to the region and are thus recent migrants. Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law denied the ethnic minority Muslim group legal status, rendering them stateless and denying them the right to education, work, and travel. More recently, the 2014 census administered by the government omitted Rohingya as a valid ethnicity forcing Rohingyas to either ascribe to another ethnic group and risk deportation or refuse to answer and receive the label of ‘unidentified’ not allowing them to vote. In 2015, the regime confiscated Rohingyas’ ‘White Cards’ that had been, for many, their last form of official documentation increasing their risk of being forced into internal refugee camps for the unidentified.
The United Nations lists the Rohingya Muslims of Northwestern Burma as one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Despite their indigeneity, the Rohingya minority in the modern Rakhine state have faced some of the worst human rights violations in Burma at the hands of former military regimes. Acts passed in the 1990s imposed restrictions on the Rohingyas including limits on family size, forced birth control, restrictions on marriages, and even removal of rights to travel without authorization. Rohingyas have also been victims of direct violence peaking with the 2012 massacre and subsequent 2013-2014 onslaught. As a result of the ethnic violence, many of the Rohingyas have been displaced and forced to flee the persecution undergoing dangerous treks of which hundreds more have gone missing from.
After facing several decades of persecution and violence, the Rohingya people now face a new crisis: human smuggling and trafficking. Despite efforts to eradicate women and child-trafficking in the region, these despicable acts of violence are still rampant. The United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking lists the reasons for smuggling and trafficking that occurs across the sea and borders of Rakhine to include sexual exploitation, forced labor, hostage taking, and coerced factory work. This is a major emerging regional issue in Southeast Asia involving Burma, Thailand, and Malaysia, and as a result of the ongoing violence is reportedly the largest exodus of people since the Vietnam refugee crisis several decades ago.
The future for the Rohingya in Burma does not seem too bright, but despite the grim situation we at Burmese Rohingya Community of Georgia, Inc. believe there is much that can be done to help alleviate the pressure on the Rohingyas. It is our mission to help Rohingyan refugees in the Greater Atlanta area the best that we can and to raise awareness of their persecution.