A film by Shahida Tulaganova
“After killing all the men, they asked: ‘Who are you?’ We replied: ‘We are Rohingya, Rohingya’. They said: ‘This is not your country, you can’t live here,” recalls Rowza Begun, a Rohingya refugee.
In August 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a large-scale “security clearance operation” in the northern Rakhine state which left thousands dead and drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee their homes to neighbouring Bangladesh.
The crackdown on the Rohingya has been described by the UN as ethnic cleansing and possible genocide, and UN investigators have warned that the genocide threat for Myanmar’s Rohingya is greater than ever.
Despite historical evidence of their long-standing presence in Rakhine state, Myanmar’s government and army refuses to recognise the Rohingya’s right to citizenship and classifies them as “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh and India.
“They call themselves Rohingya, but to us they are Bengali. What do you want us to do? There’s too many of them,” says U Parmaukha, a nationalist Buddhist monk.
When modern Burma was established after gaining independence from Britain in 1948, the Rohingya were first recognised as part of the Burmese nation and were registered as citizens, as an ethnic minority.
But “as early as 1966, the Burmese military started to see the Rohingya as a problem,” says Burmese academic Maung Zarni and explains that the government set up special forces to deal with the Muslim minority.
“Nasaka was essentially the Burmese equivalent of the SS. Nasaka was the executioner,” he says.
The Nasaka border security force was set up by General Khin Nyunt, the former head of Burmese Military Intelligence, who is now thought to have masterminded the policy of ethnic cleansing leading to the persecution of the Rohingya.