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The Rohingya People of Birma – Lost on the Brink


Myanmar, Burma

Lately more and more happy news are being heard from Myanmar (Burma), since the country is slowly developing from military dictatorship to a civil society. With Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma has its own heroine in the struggle for the freedom of Burma.

But freedom does not seem to be destined for all. In the extreme west of the country in the Rakhine State (formerly Arakan) there occurs a tragedy which is hardly noticed.

Area of the Rohingya - Situation

Area of the Rohingya – Situation

It is the Muslim Rohingya people which is treated as a foreign element by the nationally oriented Buddhist majority of Burma. This goes as far as that the Rohingya got deprived of their burmese citizenship in 1982 by a controversial law. Thus, the Rohingya became foreigners in their own country though they lived there since time immemorial. This is now the reason for recurrent pogroms against the Rohingya people. Their villages are being destroyed, people killed and hundreds of thousands have to flee their homes. The muslim population of Burma is an estimated 8 million people, representing about 15% of the total population. The government conceales these facts and numbers the Muslims only with 4% of the total population and calls them a foreign element in Buddhist Burma. But he Rohingya are an ancient people that resides in the same region for centuries and was also geographically separated from the rest of Myanmar.

Arakan on a historical map

Arakan on a historical map

Situation of the State of Rakhine (Arakan)
The estimated population for the entire state of Rakhine (Arakan) is approximately 3.8 million persons. Since independence, about 1.5 million Rohingya have been displaced and are now living in different countries of the world. This let to the situation that the Rohingya people account for no more than half of the population in Arakan. The other half of the population the buddhist Rakhine people is growing and winning more and more political influence over the becoming minority of the Rohingya. This results in further expulsions of the Rohingya, a trend that will probably develop, so that the Rohingya will lose more and more influence.

Exclusion and distortion of history
As a people, the Rohingya are related to the population of India. Also geographically the region where they live is regarded as a continuation of South Asia, and is separated in the east by the same mountain range from the rest of Myanmar, which also separates India from Burma. But still according to official Burmese authorities the Rohingya are immigrants from Bangladesh and therefore they have to be brought back there. To get an impression of the situation one can have a look at the following picture of protesters in front of the BBC building in Rangoon:

Demonstrators in front of the BBC in Rangoon

Demonstrators in front of the BBC in Rangoon

The demonstants point out that the Rohingya are not a Burmese ethnic group. Implicitly, they mean that the Rohingya have also no rights in Myanmar. The comparison with the exclusion of German Jews in the Third Reich is obvious, there also the Germans did not consider the Jews as a Germans, but as a foreign element, which had no right to reside in the country. In both cases this is a clear distortion of history.

If one looks at historical documents, one can easily see that the Muslim Rohingya belong historically provable to Arakan. According to a British map of 1909 the Muslim Rohingya people presented 50 to 70 percent of the population in their ancestral lands of Arakan:

Rohingya in history

Rohingya in history

Myanmar makes great progress on the road to freedom and democracy, not least because of Aung San Suu Kyi. Unfortunately this does not seem to apply to all peoples of the country equally, on the contrary. The more power the democratic majority gets, the harder is the lot of the Rohingya minority. To them there remains often only one way, escape.

Kutupulung refugee camp in Bangladesh

Kutupulung refugee camp in Bangladesh

Learn more about:

Rohingya refugee committeee in Malaysia

Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO)

About David X. Meier

David X. Meier has a Master's degree in Social Anthropology at University of Zurich. One of his special interest are ethnopolitical occurrences and issues and the hope that the awareness of ethnical issues will help to establish peace and understanding.


  1. Peace Warriors are disturbed about the treaht to harm Muslims in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar “In papers distributed in Yangon for the past few days, people were urged to attack Muslims, their mosques, shops and houses. Muslim women were also singled out as targets. It has made Muslims and those of Indian descent afraid to go about their work, or to even go outside alone. Some Muslim families have closed their shops and Islamic Religious Schools and Universities closed two days ago”

  2. Thanks to Zak Rose for a good analysis of the latest tragedy targeting the Rohingyas of Myanmar. The Burmese society has been and remains the worst racist society in our world. There is no place for non-Buddhists in that country. Thus, came all the laws and persecutions to marginalize or push them out. Naturally, there are almost 50% of the Rohingya population numbering close to two million that are now living as refugees outside. The total Rohingya population is a matter of guess given the fact that no census was conducted by the regime in decades. However, a credible estimate provided by Dr. Shwe Lu Maung, in his much researched work – The Price of Silence – puts the number at over 47% of the total population in the Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state of Myanmar. The latest crisis is claimed to be triggered by the alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine girl by a Rohingya. But that is an accusation, which was never proven. The alleged criminal was later claimed to have committed suicide in the prison cell. Knowing previous government schemes to stir up riots, one should not thus be surprised if the fact turns out that the Nasaka itself had committed the crime and then dumped the body bordering a Muslim and Buddhist area. Rohingya Muslims say that they did not commit the latest crime. It was all part of a calculated program initiated by RNDP, the extremist Rakhine Buddhists with full support of the central regime.

  3. 2. The latest pogrom, which started on June 3 with the gruesome murder of ten Tablighi Burmese Muslims by an organized Rakhine mob, has already resulted in the estimated deaths of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, and destruction of their villages, townships and schools, madrasas, mosques and business centers. Thousands of Muslim girls and women have also been raped by the armed members of the government security forces and local Buddhist population within the Rakhine state. As a result, nearly a hundred thousand Rohingyas are internally displaced, who are also denied access to food and shelter. Tens of thousands of panicked Rohingya population have been pushed to seek refuge or asylum in any country willing to provide them shelter.

  4. When a new Islamic country of Pakistan was about to be formed, Rohingya Muslim groups, who already possessed arms in their hands and wanted to obtain a “national area” according to the promise given by the British, demanded the secession of the Mayu region of Western Burma so as to combine that area with East Pakistan . Mujahideen uprisings in Arakan occurred due to an impact of World World II and its aftermath, the creation of a new Islamic State, East Pakistan , in the neighboring area of the Rohingya settlements in western Burma.

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