What Is Happening to Refugees in Myanmar — And How It’s Getting Worse

By Rebecca Ma, Associate Campaigner, Amnesty International USA

Almost 400,000 people have fled for their lives across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in less than three weeks. This is more than the total number of refugees who came to Europe by sea in 2016. Tens of thousands more have been displaced and are fleeing for their lives while still inside the state.

To put that into perspective, there are an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. While numbers of those fleeing has risen dramatically since the end of August, this is not a new problem. Rohingya in Myanmar have been subject to decades of state-sponsored discrimination and persecution..

Who is suffering?

The government is targeting Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who have lived for generations in majority Buddhist Myanmar, but are not recognized as citizens by the government. Deemed illegal immigrants and denied citizenship, their ability to study, work, marry, and practice their religion has been curtailed. Their access to healthcare has been severely restricted.

Tensions between Rakhine Buddhists, Rohingya Muslims, and other Muslim groups erupted in 2012, driving tens of thousands of Rohingya from their homes to displacement camps. Segregated from the rest of the population, they were forced to live in deplorable conditions. Security forces also sealed off Rohingya village areas, essentially trapping them from moving freely and suspending the flow of humanitarian aid.

In October 2016, armed Rohingya fatally attacked several security forces. The Myanmar army responded with retaliatory violence that unlawfully and disproportionately targeted all Rohingya in the northern Rakhine state. Their campaign emboldened soldiers and police to torch Rohingya villages, shoot and indiscriminately kill civilians fleeing the chaos, rape women and girls, and arbitrarily arrest men without charges.

Violence began climbing to an all-time high after the August 25 attack on security forces by armed Rohingya. Amnesty International has strong evidence that these actions are a part of a pattern of persecution perpetrated by the Myanmar army against the Rohingya. Not only is the military upscaling its scorched-earth campaign, it is also deliberately targeting crossing points along the border, callously endangering and killing Rohingya. In the past few weeks, several Rohingya — including children — have been injured and killed by landmines placed along paths used by those fleeing the violence in Rakhine state.

Stateless and abandoned, the Rohingya are being attacked by the military, trapped from leaving their homes, and targeted at escape points if they try to flee. What we are seeing is a strategic and systemic campaign of persecution, and the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya.

What does the government of Myanmar have to say?

Last week, the civilian leader of Myanmar and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called the atrocities “fake news.” More recently, she cancelled her visit this week to the UN General Assembly where the UN Human Rights Council is discussing the situation in Myanmar.

What about Bangladesh?

Nearly half a million Rohingya refugees live in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, a country already strapped for resources, and more are crossing into the neighboring country as violence in the Rakhine state escalates.

Considered illegal infiltrators, Bangladesh has tried to stop the flow of refugees coming through the border. Earlier this year, Bangladesh planned to forcibly relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island that doesn’t appear on most maps and deemed uninhabitable as it becomes completely flooded underwater during monsoon season.

What you can do.

To stem the ongoing violence, the Myanmar military must end its campaign of violence against Rohingya, and it is critical the Rakhine state be open to humanitarian aid, the UN, journalists, and human rights monitors.

To tackle the root of the issue, Myanmar authorities must address the systemic discrimination that has left Rohingya trapped in a cycle of violence and destitution. Investigations into attacks must be prompt, thorough, and comply with human rights standards.

Earlier this month, U.S. Senators McCain and Durbin introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning the horrific violence committed against Rohingya and calling on Myanmar government and leadership to step up, intervene in the crisis, and address the historic repression of Rohingya.

Meanwhile, it is imperative Bangladesh keeps its borders open to refugees and offer the assistance they need. Refugees all over the world are fleeing from violence and persecution. They are the world’s most vulnerable people forced out of their homes. Now is not the time to close borders.

Take action now against the violence and persecution of refugees. Join Amnesty in supporting the McCain-Durbin resolution on the Rohingya crisis. Urge global leaders like the U.S. to continue to welcome refugees by calling 1–855–514–0802 and telling your member of Congress to urge Trump authorize resettlement of at least 75,000 refugees next year.

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