Myanmar and the Rohingya

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The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar. The government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many trace their roots in Myanmar back centuries. They differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically, and religiously. Before August 2017, most of the estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar resided in Rakhine State, where they accounted for nearly a third of the population. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are fleeing persecution in Rakhine State, fueling a historic migration crisis. Around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, which is unable to handle this volume of refugees, and living conditions are worsening. The Rohingya are fleeing a campaign of indiscriminate violence by Myanmar’s military, whose tactics are being broadly denounced. In November 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing.” The military calls the campaign a “clearance” operation against an insurgent terrorist military group. They claim the crackdown is in response to a series of armed attacks on border police by Rohingya militants in August 2017 that left 12 officers dead, the second such type of attacks in the past 12 months. But observers say that though armed Rohingya insurgents exist, their overall numbers are small, and they are poorly equipped. And the crackdown has affected the entire ethnic group. The true scale of the military campaign won’t be known for quite some time. Aid workers cannot enter the region, and journalists have almost no access.

In 2016, Myanmar’s first democratically elected government in a generation came to power, but critics say it has been reluctant to advocate for Rohingya and other Muslims for fear of alienating Buddhist nationalists and threatening the power-sharing agreement the civilian government maintains with the military. The world has turned to Aung San Suu Kyi — a dissident turned political leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and was often likened to Nelson Mandela — for answers. Now that she has become Myanmar’s de facto top civilian leader, she's been widely criticized for failing to speak out against the violence. She has denied that ethnic cleansing is taking place and dismissed international criticism of her handling of the crisis, accusing critics of fueling resentment between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. March 2018, was stripped of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's prestigious Elie Wiesel Award, the New York Times reports, for "failing to halt or even acknowledge the ethnic cleansing" in her country. World leaders are reluctant to attack too harshly. They are conscious of the fact that the country’s fragile power-sharing agreement means she has no control over Myanmar’s military or security apparatus.

Countries like the United States, Canada, Norway, and South Korea, and international donors have upped their humanitarian assistance as the flow of Rohingya to Bangladesh has grown, and in early 2018 a team of UK medics led an emergency response to help stem the spread of disease in camps. Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, the Arakan Project, and Fortify Rights continue to appeal for international pressure on Myanmar’s government. Despite international condemnation over the treatment of its Rohingya Muslim population, the Rohingya Crisis hasn’t hurt Myanmar’s tourism industry. Myanmar tourist arrivals rose 18 percent last year to 3.44 million visitors. Join us as we discuss the Rohingya Crisis References are below.

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The world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis is taking place in Myanmar. Here’s why. ( (Vox)

The “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, explained ( (Vox video)

The Rohingya Crisis ( (Council on Foreign Relations)

Aung San Suu Kyi stripped of human rights award over silence on Rohingya ( (Axios)

The Rohingya Crisis Hasn’t Hurt Myanmar’s Tourism Industry ( (Bloomberg)