The story of Stateless people

June 7, 2017 Asia , HUMAN RIGHTS , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS


AP photo



Mehedi Hasan


The Rohingya is often said to be the world’s most persecuted minority. They are an ethnic Muslim group in the majority Buddhist country and make up around one million of the total 50 million population.

They hail from the country’s northwest and speak a Bengali dialect. Almost all live in Rakhine, one of the poorest states, with a population of three million. About 140,000 Rohingya in the Rakhine state live in ghetto-like camps that they can’t leave without government permission. In this human world they are not living a human life. But why did this situation happen? Is this because of the religious issue or is something else responsible for this? I am going to analysis the conflict based on the facts.


Brief History of Rohingya people

In the 18th century Burma was under British colonization. British power needed many people to work as labourers in Burma. At that time the neighbouring state, which is now known as Bangladesh, was also under British colonial power. Bangladesh was then under the Indian subcontinent, or Bangladesh was under India. Bangladesh is and used to be the Border state of Burma. That is why it was much easier to manage Bangladeshi people to work in Burma. The British Government therefore brought many Bangladeshi people to Burma from in order to work. These Bangladeshi people were living in Burma for their forefathers. Nowadays, they are known as Rohingya people.

Rohingya people are known as stateless people. It does not mean they do not have any state. Actually, they are forced to become stateless people by laws and when the law did not work properly they were forced to become stateless people. According to the 1997 Statistical Yearbook, published by the Government of Myanmar, the official population of the Arakan or Rakhine State, where most Rohingyas reside, numbered around 2.6 million. In addition to this 2.6 million, another million plus Rohingyas reside in the Rakhine State (2009 UN figure of Rohingya population in the Arakan is 723,000). This would imply that the overall population of the Rakhine State is around 4 to 5 million.

In government circles however, the Rakhine State is the home of the officially designated majority – the Buddhist Rakhine. The distinction between ‘Rohingyas’ and ‘Rakhine’ here is a deliberate one, not so much for the reason of semantics as for the reason of the state. The Myanmar government refuses to recognize Rohingyas as one of the ethnic groups of the country when 135 other ethnic groups are recognized. Out of 1.33 million Rohingyas in Burma only 40,000 have citizenship while 100,000 Rohingya people are suffering too much for not having any kind of national identity. Nor do they have any passport or have been given any proper rights by their own government. According to a law introduced by the Burmese government in 1982, only those ethnic groups will be given citizenship that were staying in Burma before the British invasion. So now the fact is based on this law Rohingya people are not lawful citizens of Myanmar.


Buddhism in Myanmar

Close to 90% of people in Myanmar today are Buddhist, and virtually all of them practice Theravada Buddhism. This branch of Buddhism adheres most closely to the oldest texts in the Buddhist tradition and generally emphasizes a more rigorous observance of the monastic code than other schools of Buddhism. Buddha’s teaching spread in Myanmar from an early age. At the time of King Ashoka of India Monks used to send to Thaton to spread Bhusha’s teaching. Thaton was a trading centre of southern Burma. However, from the first century C.E. onwards, trade with India and Burma expanded and there was increased contact with the Indian traders and their religious beliefs. Buddhism was widely accepted by the people in Thaton as more Buddhist missionaries arrived from Indian Buddhist centres. Thaton soon became an important centre of Theravada Buddhism.

In the later centuries, Vairayana Buddhism was introduced to people in northern Burma. They practice along with Hinduism and local folk beliefs. In the middle of the eleventh century a powerful king, Anawrahta, brought northern and southern Burma under his rule. As he was a strong supporter of Theravada Buddhism, he made it the national religion.


Conflict Analysis

The Rohingyas, a mainly Muslim community, are located in Myanmar’s eastern Rakhine state. They have a population of around one million people but are not the largest group in this state. The Buddhist Rakhine people are the majority group among all ethnic groups in Rakhine. The whole Rakhine community feels culturally discriminated, economically exploited, and politically sidelined by the central government, which is dominated by ethnic Burmese. In addition, the Rohingyas are perceived by the Rakhine people as also competing for the same allocated resources which is a threat to the Rakhine people. According to some scholars this is the root cause of conflict among the two groups. Moreover, the Rakhine people feel politically betrayed because the Rohingyas do not vote for their parties. No doubt this has created more tension among the two different ethnic groups.

Instead of solving this conflict the Government is supporting the Rakhine Buddhist fundamentalists in order to safeguard its interests in the resource-rich state. The religious conflict among Buddhists and Muslims is really complicated. Burmese Buddhists think that Islam is a threat to their religious culture, this country surrounded by many Muslim countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Burmese are having the problem of Islamophobia and some are scared because of the Muslims.

Another reason for this conflict is that most Burmese think that Rohingya people do not belong to Burma. They are migrated from different countries and the time has arrived for them to leave Burma. But there is an economic aspect to the issue too. Rakhine state is one of the country’s poorest areas, despite being rich in natural resources. The Rohingyas are thus considered an additional economic burden on the state, as they compete for the few available jobs and opportunities to do business. The jobs and businesses in the state are mostly occupied by the Burmese elite. As a result, we can say that Buddhist resentment against the Rohingyas is not only religious; it is also political and economically driven.



The crisis can only be solved through regional cooperation, and ASEAN offers a fine platform for that. But the bloc’s effectiveness in resolving the ongoing Rohingya crisis will be limited. The ASEAN countries have been affected by this crisis in different ways; therefore these member states have a limited political will and interest in the crisis. Also, ASEAN’s founding principles do not allow the organization to interfere with issues dealing with national sovereignty of the member states. However, the grouping can still promote transnational cooperation to resolve the Rohingya issue. The UN can then arrange a discussion in the General Assembly to do justice with the Rohingya people. The UN may bring some peaceful solution to help those stateless people. If they can allow attacks on Iraq in Iraq-Quiet war and can take steps in Afghanistan then the UN can take some steps to solve this problem.

It is not that all countries are not over populated. Some countries are suffering because of not having enough youth. Many countries are still depending on migrant workers who are leaving their jobs to work abroad. So let those migrant workers stay in his or her place and the UN can shift Rohingya people to work in those countries. Lots of young talents are moving here and there with really creative ideas which may be a step towards solving the problem of refugees. But their ideas are not functioning because they do not have enough money and workforce. Many NGOs can then arrange a competition to present their ideas and top ten idea makers will be provided huge amounts of money and facilities to solve the problem of the Rohingya issue. To solve this dispute multinational companies can establish their factories in Myanmar where Rohingya people can only work over there.

Myanmar is now a democratic country, so their foreign policy is flexible for direct foreign investment. Now the fact is the international organizations and multinational companies have to take steps to solve this Rohingya crisis. It may not solve this problem but will provide some smiles on those stateless faces.




Mehedi Hasan is pursuing his bachelor degree in Political Science at International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.


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