top of page

The Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar - What is it and what can we do?

On August 2017, violence erupted in Rakhine State in Myanmar, targeting the Rohingya people, a stateless Muslim minority. More than half a million people fled to Bangladesh, triggering one of the fastest growing humanitarian crises in the world.

The Rohingya people are one of the many ethnic minorities in Myanmar, currently under fire from attacks carried out by Myanmar’s military. Ever since the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) was formed by the Rohingya people as a means of opposing government forces, the government of Myanmar has characterized the Rohingya population as terrorists and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Thus, the government began a campaign that involved the destruction of numerous Rohingya villages throughout the country. Despite worldwide criticism, the government of Myanmar argues that the destruction of Rohingya villages is a measure taken to build new homes, security force bases and infrastructure to prepare for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

© UNICEF/UN0213974/Sokol

Rohingya refugee children wade through flood waters surrounding their families' shelters in Shamlapur Makeshift Settlement, Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh

António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, argues that the violence involved in the Rohingya refugee crisis is an act of ethnic cleansing. The number of Rohingya refugees is increasing, but Myanmar is showing no signs of stopping the massacre of the Rohingya people. Measures need to be taken in order to prevent violence in Myanmar, in order for Rohingya Muslims to stop fleeing as refugees and return to their country of origin.

In an interview with Ewan Cosker, Secretary General of MUN at The American International School of Muscat, what seemed to be the foundation to a possible solution was brought to the table;

“In order to ‘solve’ the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, one first needs to find the root of the problem. Initially, it was believed that the main excuse was the Burmese government’s portrayal of the Rohingya as ‘illegal immigrants’; this brief and narrow-minded categorization prevented many major western powers from becoming involved in the crisis. However, it later emerged that the forced removal of the Rohingya in the Rakhine State was simply blatant islamophobia. Many news outlets and sources have stated that the best way to stop the humanitarian crisis is to involve the United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, etc. However, in my opinion, involving a western state will not only complicate affairs but also potentially create greater cultural alliances within Myanmar. Rather, I suggest that a greater control and influence of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) should be administered. Realistically, this ethnic cleansing cannot be stopped but it can restrained and controlled. It is not the ideal situation, as it could potentially create systematic racism within Myanmar and the neighbouring nations, nonetheless it can and will decrease the oppression and loss of human lives in the region.”

The government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, denies the Rohingya people of their citizenship and excludes the ethnic group, refusing to recognize them as people. They are seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite being native to the Rakhine State, which is, in fact, part of Myanmar. Ever since August of 2017, nearly a million Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee after their villages were destroyed, their belongings burnt and their people raped. The Rohingya are victimized of genocide so often, and thus these people take on perilous journeys to surrounding countries with the hope to survive.

“The other major topic of controversy is refugees”, Cosker adds, “[According to UNICEF], there is an estimated 655,000 to 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh alone. Not only are these refugees fleeing from the Burmese government, they are now being oppressed in Bangladesh. One of the main concerns that the Bangladeshi government is the overpopulation of the southern state, Cox’s Bazar.”

Efforts were made by the United Nations and various NGOs to resolve the issue regarding the Rohingya refugees ever since the first Rohingya Muslims fled the state of Rakhine; however, the world is not seeing any progress in terms of preventing the Rohingya people from fleeing their country. As aforementioned, a solution can only be drawn by targeting the root of the problem. In other words, while tending to refugees is more than necessary, the attacks carried out by the Myanmar government at the origin of the outflow of Rohingya refugees, the Rakhine State, must come to an end so people can stay in their home country, as opposed to being forced to flee.

The truth is both problems are very real and need solutions as soon as possible, much like many other humanitarian crises we, as a species, are facing right now. So what can be done? Cosker touches on the matter yet again, remarking that a clear solution is, realistically, not something within reach but there is definitely hope, should our efforts be made collectively and especially on part of the UN. We must get to the bottom of the issue, working consistently towards the ultimate goal that is the end of ethnic cleansing acts and persecution.

“Overall, the international community needs to get involved and put an end to this humanitarian crisis as soon as possible, if they do not act rapidly and effectively, the situation could lead to full fledged genocide. Despite this, there is no clear cut solution to the problem. Ultimately, in my opinion, the United Nations can and should be doing more to regain human rights and restrict oppression in the region. However, the real question is: why they have they not acted quickly and effectively?”

We are left with a question that is up to us all to find answers to, perhaps through an initiative promoting a change to the current stance of the Myanmar government toward Rohingya Muslims. Although the short-term goal of providing the Rohingya refugees with basic needs is being fulfilled by the UN and various NGOs, in the long run, as the refugee population increases, humanitarian aid would be meaningless if there are no measures taken to cease the conflict in Rakhine that has been causing the Rohingya to flee in the first place. Attempts made by non-governmental organizations to prevent casualties within the Rohingya population are indubitably effective; however, efforts must be made to eliminate the cause of the Rohingya crisis and allow the Rohingya to return to their country.

Recent Posts
bottom of page