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The most persecuted minority in the world

The plight of a minority whose very identity and nation has been cruelly snatched from them.

 

So often in political theory seminars, I am taught the importance of freedom of belief and religion, to be able to practise freely one’s belief or non-belief is intrinsic to an individual’s identity in civil society. But what happens when a group’s identity is the reason for their plight?

This is the case for the Rohingya Muslims, an overwhelmingly persecuted minority native to the Rakhine State in Burma. The Rohingya people, after the 1982 citizenship law, have been rendered stateless after being unrecognised out of the 130 ethnicities in Burma.

With tyrannical and peculiar restrictions placed upon them, they have been forced to flee their native land into neighbouring countries like Thailand, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. Many have died en-route due to harsh weather conditions and lack of nutrition.

So why are the Rohingya people – according to the UN – “the most persecuted minority in the world”? There is a deep hatred of the people of Rohingya, as Burmese Settlers deny their native identity and refuse that they were even inhabitants of Burma before 1950. They have a different language, skin colour and religion, and are consequently detested by xenophobic Burmese monks who instigate Buddhist-Muslim tension.

An example of this is the degrading and racist manner with which they are acknowledged: “kala” roughly translates as black monster. Coupled with the long history of ethnic tension in Burma, the ongoing conflict and blame game between the president Thein Sein and the Buddhist monks, the Rohingya people occupy threatening terrain.

Cruelty towards, and oppression of, Muslims is endemic in Burma. Wirathu, a Burmese monk who notoriously calls himself the “Buddhist Bin Laden”, recently caused outrage by demanding a boycott of Muslim owned shops. Burma’s fast pace transition to democracy and unshackled media has allowed for freedom of speech to be selectively replaced by hate speech.

What now for the Rohingya people? A surge in Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighbouring countries Thailand and Bangladesh only to be refused asylum has increased international pressure for Thein Sein to scrutinize domestic affairs.

A visit to the USA in May 2013 saw Thein Sen praised for poitical-economic development in Burma, but strongly criticised for the heavy human rights violation against the Rohingya Muslims. This followed worldwide media reporting on the 2012 Rakhine state riots, which displaced an estimated 90,000 Rohingyas.

The Rohingya’s fear for their lives on a daily basis continues. Facing waves of bigotry and xenophobia, their journey will continue to be bitter and rough.

What can you do?

To find out more, search for ‘Respond2Rohingya’ on Facebook. It is a KCL student-led initiative that aims to empower students to take action and support the Rohingya Muslims. Stalls outside Strand and Guy’s campus are regularly held too, so keep a look out!

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