Since August 2017, the world has watched as the Rohingya were forced to flee a humanitarian crisis, military violence, and what the United Nations has called an active genocide. The international community has since questioned if this group will ever be able to return home.
The Rohingya are no stranger to discrimination and violence. As a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, a prominently Buddhist country, they have faced institutionalized discrimination for years. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (C.F.R.), this is done through the implementation of discriminatory policies and the loss of rights and citizenship. Rohingya are not afforded citizenship under Myanma law, meaning they are unable to legally access resources and rights. According to Human Rights Watch, “under the 1982 Citizenship Law, [the Rohingya] are one of the largest stateless populations in the world.” The C.F.R. further explains that the lack of Rohingya citizenship rights has allowed Myanmar’s government to implement discriminatory laws with impunity, including restrictions on marriage, employment, education, and freedom of movement. Along with the institutionalized discriminatory policies, the C.F.R. states that the Rohingya’s home, Rakhine State, is Myanmar’s least developed state, with a poverty rate of 78% compared to the 37.5% national average.
This humanitarian crisis only worsened with the conflict and violence that arose in 2017. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.), “On August 25, 2017, … violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, driving more than 742,000 to seek refuge in Bangladesh.” Villages were burnt down, leaving behind few remnants of what was once a community. Thousands of Rohingya were killed, raped, or forced to flee their homes. In 2018, U.N. investigators accused Myanmar’s government of committing these mass killings as an attempt to commit an ethnic genocide.
Many Rohingya fled to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh in search of safety and shelter. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, “[a]n estimated 12,000 reached Bangladesh during the first half of 2018,” the “vast majority” of which, the U.N.H.C.R. says, “are women and children, and more than 40 per cent are under age 12.” With an influx of Rohingya seeking refuge, countries like Bangladesh are finding it difficult to make room in camps and provide adequate aid, shelter, water, food, protection, and basic necessities.