By Amy Tennery for Reuters on June 17, 2015—
“Myanmar is currently in the throes of a massive humanitarian crisis. Thousands of ethnic Rohingya are fleeing persecution. Boarding overcrowded boats (and often enduring horrific conditions), they’re going to countries scarcely able to help them — or in some cases, frankly, not interested in helping them.
How did this happen?
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority in the majority Buddhist Myanmar. Many of their enemies refuse to acknowledge that the Rohingya are an ethnically distinct group. They claim instead that the Rohingya are Bengali and that their presence in Myanmar is the result of illegal immigration (more on that later). The Rohingya, for their part, claim to be pre-colonial residents of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the Middle East Institute explains, with the earliest known appearance of the term Rohingya in 1799.
Why are the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar?
The Rohingya face violence and lack basic rights such as access to healthcare, education and employment. They live in “apartheid-like conditions” due to, among other things, Myanmar’s refusal to recognize them as citizens. But this is nothing new. Between May 1991 and March 1992, more than 260,000 Rohingya fled the country over “human rights abuses committed by the Burmese military, including the confiscation of land, forced labor, rape, torture, and summary executions,” the nonprofit group Physicians for Human Rights wrote in a 2013 report.”
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