Saturday, February 6, 2010

Burma: Rohingya(罗兴亚人)

The Rohingya is a Muslim ethnic group of the Northern Arakan State of Western Burma (also known as Myanmar). Rakhine State (formerly Arakan) is a state of Burma. Situated on the western coast, it is bordered by Chin State in the north, Magway Division, Bago Division and Ayeyarwady Division in the east, the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest. The Arakan Yoma mountain range, which rises to 3,063 m at Victoria Peak, separates Rakhine State from Burma Proper. Its area is 36,762 km² and its capital is Sittwe.

Map of Rakhine State(formerly Arakan state)

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The estimated population in 2000 was 2.7 million of which the ethnic Arakanese or Rakhine make up the slight majority. The Rakhine(formerly Arakanese), is a nationality of Myanmar, and form the majority along the coastal region of Rakhine State or Arakan State. The Rakhine are predominantly Theravada Buddhists and are one of the four main Buddhist ethnic groups of Myanmar (the others being the Bamar, Shan and Mon). They claim to be one of the first groups to become followers of the Buddha in Southeast Asia.

The Rohingya make up approximately 25% of the state's population (about 723,000 in 2009) but are not counted as citizens by the military government. In a way, most Rohingya people are stateless. Rohingya people are predominantly Muslims.

The Rohingya population is mostly concentrated in two bordering townships of Arakan to Bangladesh, namely Maungdaw and Buthidaung, and is spread in three townships of Akyab, Rathedung and Kyauktaw.


The Rohingya language, known as Rohingyalish, is the modern written language of the Rohingya People of Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar). It is linguistically similar to the Chittagonian language spoken in the southern most area of Bangladesh bordering Burma.

Who are Rohingya?

The term “Rohingya” came into use in the 1950s by the educated Bengali residents from the Mayu Frontier Area and cannot be found in any historical source in any language before then. The creators of that term might have been from the second or third generations of the Bengali immigrants from the Chittagong District in modern Bangladesh; however, this does not mean that there was no Muslim community in Arakan before the state was absorbed into British India.

The Muslims in the Arakan State can be divided into four different groups, namely:

(i)Chittagonian Bengalis in the Mayu Frontier;
(ii)The descendents of the Muslim Community of Arakan in the Mrauk-U period (1430-1784), presently living in the Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships;
(iii)The decendents of Muslim mercenaries in Ramree Island known to the Arakanese as Kaman;
(iv)The Muslims from the Myedu area of Central Burma, left behind by the Burmese invaders in Sandoway District after the conquest of Arakan in 1784.

The Burmese Muslim that met the criteria and been in Burma since ancient times are granted citizenship,included some Arakanese Muslim. Most of these earlier Muslim, like Kaman, Myaydus, had assimilated to the local Burmese community. The Rohingya are actually Chittagonian Bengali Muslims. Most of them cannot speak Burmese or Arakanese. The word “Rohingya” was first pronounced by the Mr Abdul Gaffar, an MP from Buthidaung, in his article “The Sudeten Muslims,” published in the Guardian Daily on 20 August 1951(Aye Chan, 2005).


In the beginning of the 7th century AD, merchants from the Arab World, Mughal Empire and neighbouring Bengal began to settle in Arakan territory. There were no historical record of Rohingyas in Burma's early history. The ancient kingdom of Arakanese had been in Arakan since 3325 BC until 1784, when the kingdom was annexed by Burmese king.

It is thought, according to various indigenous ethnic groups of Burma, the local Arakanese people and the Burmese military government, that waves of later Bangali migrations to Arakan started in the 19th century after the British occupation(refer to an article ref:Response to the Press Release of the Rohingyas, The Rohingya are actually Bengalis Muslim from Bengal.

Mass Migration in the Colonial Period (1826-1948)

When King Min Saw Mon, the founder of Mrauk-U Dynasty (1430-1784) regained the throne with the military assistance of the Sultan of Bengal, after twenty-four years of exile in Bengal, his Bengali retinues were allowed to settle down in the outskirts of Mrauk-U, where they built the well-known Santikan mosque.

These were the earliest Muslim settlers and their community in Arakan did not seem to be large in number. In the middle of the seventeenth century the Muslim community grew because of the assignment of Bengali slaves in variety of the workforces in the country. The Portuguese and Arakanese raids of Benga (Bengal) for captives and loot became a conventional practice of the kingdom since the early sixteenth century. The Moghal historian Shiahabuddin Talish noted that only the Portuguese pirates sold their captives and that the Arakanese employed all of their prisoners in agriculture and other kinds of services (Talish 1907:Aye Chan 2005)

During the four decades of Burmese rule (1784-1824),because of ruthless oppression, many Arakanese fled to British Bengal. According to a record of British East India Company, there
were about thirty-five thousand Arakanese who had fled to Chittagong District in British India to seek protection in 1799 (Asiatic Annual Register 1799: 61; Charney 1999: 265). A considerable portion of Arakanese population was deported by Burmese conquerors to Central Burma.


In the 19th century, the British captured control of Arakan after the first Anglo–Burmese War (1824-1826). Britain annexed the region as a province of British India and brought in large numbers of Bengali-speaking Muslim labourers( who later called themselves "Rohingyas" in 1951), and many more Bengalis from British East Bengal came to settle in Arakan. When the British occupied Arakan, the country was a scarcely populated area. Formerly high-yield paddy fields of the fertile Kaladan and Lemro River Valleys germinated nothing but wild plants for many years (Charney 1999: 279).

British policy was to encourage the Bengali inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into fertile valleys in Arakan as agriculturalists. As the British East India Company extended the administration of Bengal to Arakan, there was no international boundary between the two
countries and no restriction was imposed on the emigration. A superintendent, later an assistant commissioner, directly responsible to the Commissioner of Bengal, was sent in 1828 for the administration of Arakan Division, which was divided into three districts respectively: Akyab, Kyaukpyu, and Sandoway with an assistant commissioner in each district (Furnivall 1957:29). The migrations were mostly motivated by the search of professional opportunity. In 1830s, many hundreds, indeed thousands of coolies came from the Chittagong District by land and by sea, to seek labor and high wages (Phayre 1836:696).

The flow of Chittagonian labor provided the main impetus to the economic development in Arakan within a few decades along with the opening of regular commercial shipping lines between Chittagong and Akyab. The arable land expanded to four and a half times between 1830 and 1852 and Akyab became one of then major rice exporting cities in the world.


By 1886, Britain had incorporated Burma into the British India. Burma was administered as a province of British India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony.

The Assessment of the Census Reports for 1871, 1901, and 1911 revealed that Chittagonian population increased from 13,987 in 1891 to 19, 360 in 1911, or about seventy-seven percent in twenty years. At the same time the increase of the Arakanese population including the absorption of the hill tribes and the returning refugees from Bengal was only 22.03 percent. Hunger for land was the prime motive for the migration of most of the Chittagonians.

During the colonial period the anti- Indian riots broke out in Burma because of the resentment against unhindered Indian settlements particularly in Arakan, Tenasserim and Lower Burma (Yegar 1992:29-31).

The Bengali Muslims occupied the villages deserted by the Arakanese during the Burmese rule and established purely Muslim village communities. The village committee authorized by the Village Amendment Act of 1924 paved the way for the Imam (moulovi) and the trusteeship committee members of the village mosque to be elected to the village council. They were also allowed to act as the village magistrates and shariah was somewhat in effect in the Muslim villages (Charter 1938:34-38). At least the Islamic court of village had the jurisdiction over familial problems such as marriage, inheritance and divorce. There was no internal sense of unrighteousness and presence of nonbelievers in their community, and accordingly they believe no internecine struggle was for the time being necessary.

The ethnic violence between Arakanese Buddhists and those Muslim Chittagonians brought a great deal of bloodshed to Arakan during the World War II and after 1948, in the opening decade of independent Burma. Some people of the Mayu Frontier in their early seventies and eighties have still not forgotten the atrocities they suffered in 1942 and 1943 during the short period of anarchy between the British evacuation and the Japanese occupation of the area. In this vacuum there was an outburst of the tension of ethnic and religious cleavage that had been
simmering for a century. One of the underlying causes of the communal violence was the Zamindary System brought by the British from Bengal. By this system the British administrators granted the Bengali landowners thousands of acres of arable land on ninety-year-leases. The Arakanese peasants who fled the Burmese rule and came home after British annexation were deprived of the land that they formerly owned through inheritance. Nor did the Bengali zamindars (landowners) want the Arakanese as tenants on their land. Thousands of Bengali peasants from Chittagong District were brought to cultivate the soil (Report of the
Settlement Operations in the Akyab District 1887-1888: 2, 21). Most of the Bengali immigrants were influenced by the Farai-di movement in Bengal that propagated the ideology of the
Wahhabis of Arabia, which advocated settling ikhwan or brethrenin agricultural communities near to the places of water resources. The peasants, according to the teaching, besides cultivating the land should be ready for waging a holy war upon the call by their lords (Rahman 1979: 200-204). In the Maungdaw Township alone, there were, in the 1910s, fifteen Bengali Zamindars who brought thousands of Chittagonian tenants and established Agricultural
Muslim communities, building mosques with Islamic schools affiliated to them. However, all these villages occupied by the Bengalis continued to be called by Arakanese names in the British records.


In 1931, the Simon Commission was appointed by the British Parliament to enquire the opinion of Burmese people for the constitutional reforms and on the matter of whether Burma should be separated from Indian Empire. The spokesman of the Muslim League advocated for fair share of government jobs, ten percent representation in all public bodies, and especially in Arakan the equal treatment for Muslims seeking agricultural and business loans (Cady 1958: 294).Towards the middle of twentieth century a new educated and politically conscious younger generation had superseded the older, inactive ones. Before the beginning of the Second World War a political party, Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam was founded under the guidance of the Islamic scholars. Islam became the ideological basis of the party (Khin Gyi Pyaw 1960: 99). On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered territory, independent of the Indian administration.

1942-1944 Japanese Occupation
The leaders of ANC (Arakan National Congress), formed in 1939 and that later becoming the Arakan branch of Anti-Fascist Organization (AFO) formed a de-facto government, before the Japanese troops and Burma Independence Army (BIA) reached there. The ANC announced that anybody or any organization looting or killing the refugees would be brought before the justice and would be severely punished (New Burma Daily 1942: May 28). The Japanese air
force attacked Akyab on 23 March 1942 and the British moved their administrative headquarter to India on March 30. The administration by martial law began in Akyab District on 13 April
1942 and with this racial tension burst to the surface, giving way to the public disorder (Owen 1946: 26).

British colonial administration for arming the Chittagonians in the Mayu Frontier as the Volunteer Force. The V Force, as it is called by the British Army, was formed in 1942 soon after the Japanese operations threatened the British position in India. Its principal role was to undertake guerrilla operations against Japanese, to collect information of the enemy’s movements and to act as interpreters. The volunteers, instead of fighting the Japanese, destroyed Buddhist monasteries and Pagodas and burnt down the houses in the Arakanese villages. They first killed U Kyaw Khine, the deputy commissioner of Akyab District, left behind by the British government to maintain law and order in the frontier area; they then massacred thousands of Arakanese civilians in the towns and villages.

After the Japanese occupation of Akyab (Sittwe), Bo Yan Aung, the member of the Thirty Comrades and commander of a BIA column, set up the administrative body in Akyab District and attempted to cease the violence in the frontier area. Bo Yan Aung discussed the matter with both Arakanese and Muslim leaders. He sent his two lieutenants, Bo Yan Naung and Bo Myo Nyunt to Maungdaw to negotiate with the radical Muslim leaders. They tried to persuade the Muslims to join in anti-imperialist and nationalist movement. But both of them were killed in Maungdaw and Bo Yan Aung was called back to Rangoon by the BIA headquarters(Rakhine State People’s Council 1986: 40-42).

For most of the Chittagonians it was a religious issue that would necessarily lead to the creation of a Dah-rul-Islam, or at least to being united with their brethren in the west. It also aimed at the extirpation of the Arakanese or being forced them to migrate to the south where there were overwhelming majority of Arakanese Buddhists. The events during the war contributed the Chittagonians’ fervent sense of alienation from the heterogeneous community of the Arakan. Anthony Irwin called the whole area a “No Man’s Land” during the three years of Japanese occupation (Irwin 1946:27). The ethnic violence divided the Arakan State between Arakanese and Chittagonians.

In the words of the historian, Clive J. Christie, the “ethnic cleansing in British controlled areas, particularly around the town of Maungdaw,” was occurring till the arrival of Japanese troops to the eastern bank of Naaf River (Christie 1996: 165). The British forces began to take offensive in the warfare against the Japanese in northern Arakan in December 1944. The Arakanese troops of AFO maintained law and order in the areas from which Japanese forces withdrew. Of course there were some prominent Arakanese guerrilla leaders who cooperated with the Japanese during the war. British Battalion 65 occupied Akyab, the capital city of Arakan on
12 December 1944. As soon as Akyab was captured the British Army began arresting the Arakanese guerrilla leaders. U Ni, a leader of AFO in Akyab was accused of one hundred and fifty-two criminal offenses and sentenced to forty-two years in prison. Another leader, U Inga was condemned to death by hanging five times, as well as forty-two-year imprisonment. Consequently many guerrilla fighters escaped into hideouts in the forests (Myanmaralin Daily 25 September 1945).

Post war period(1945-1948)

During the early post-war years both Arakanese and Bengali Muslims in the Mayu Frontier looked at each other with distrust. As the British Labor Government promised independence for Burma, some Muslims were haunted by the specter of their future living under the infidel rule in the place where the baneful Arakanese are also living. In 1946 a delegation was sent by the Jami-atul Ulema-e Islam to Karachi to discuss with the leaders of the Muslim League the possibility of incorporation of Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Ratheedaung townships into Pakistan, but the British ignored their proposal to detach the frontier area to award it to Pakistan. The failure of their attempts ended in an armed revolt, with some Muslims, declaring a holy war on the new republic. The rebels called themselves “Mujahid.” A guerrilla army of 2700 fighters was organized (Khin Gyi Pyaw 1960: 99; The Nation Daily 1953: April16).

The Mujahid uprising 1946

Before Burma won independence from Britain in 1948, the Bengali-speaking Muslim population near the border exceeded that of the local Buddhists, leading to the Chittagonian Bengalis secessionist tensions to form a Muslim state.
The Mujahid uprising began two years before the independence was declared. In March 1946 the Muslim Liberation Organization (MLO) was formed with Zaffar Kawal, a native of Chittagong District, as the leader. A conference was held in May 1948 in Garabyin Village north to Maungdaw and the name of the organization was changed to “Mujahid Party.” Some Chittagonian Bengalis from nearby villages brought the weapons they had collected during the wartime to the mosques in Fakir Bazaar Village and Shahbi Bazaar Village (Department of Defense Service Archives, Rangoon, DR 491 (56)). Jaffar Kawal became the commander in chief and his lieutenant was Abdul Husein, formerly a corporal from the Akyab District police force (Department of Defense Service Archives, Rangoon, DR 1016). The Mujahid Party sent a letter written in Urdur and dated 9 June 1948 to the government of Union of Burma through the sub-divisional officer of Maungdaw Township. Their demands are as follows (Department of Defence Service Archives, Rangoon: CD 1016/10/11):

(1) The area between the west bank of Kaladan River and the east bank of Naaf River must be recognized as the National Home of the Muslims in Burma.
(2) The Muslims in Arakan must be accepted as the nationalities of Burma.
(3) The Mujahid Party must be granted a legal status as a political organization.
(4) The Urdur Language must be acknowledged as the national language of the Muslims in Arakan and be taught in the schools in the Muslim areas.
(5) The refugees from the Kyauktaw and Myohaung (Mrauk- U) Townships must be resettled in their villages at the expense of the state.
(6) The Muslims under detention by the Emergency Security Act must be unconditionally released.
(7) A general amnesty must be granted for the members of Mujahid Party.

1948 Burma independence

On 15 and 16 June 1951 All Arakan Muslim Conference was held in Alethangyaw Village, and “The Charter of the Constitutional Demands of the Arakani Muslims” was published. It calls for “the balance of power between the Muslims and the Maghs (Arakanese), two major races of Arakan.” The demand of the charter reads: North Arakan should be immediately formed a free Muslim State as equal constituent Member of the Union of Burma like the Shan State, the Karenni State, the Chin Hills, and the Kachin Zone with its own Militia, Police and Security Forces under the General Command of the Union (Department of the Defense Service Archives, Rangoon: DR 1016/10/13).

Here it is again noticeable that in the charter these peoples are mentioned as the Muslims of Arakan. The word “Rohingya” was first pronounced by the Mr Abdul Gaffar, an MP from Buthidaung, in his article “The Sudeten Muslims,” published in the Guardian Daily on 20 August 1951.

After Burma gained independence in 1948, a concentration of nearly ninety percent(majority) of the area’s population, the distinguishing characteristics of their own culture, and the Islamic faith formed an ethnic and religious minority group in the western fringe of the republic. For successive generations their ethnicity and Islam have been practically not distinguishable. At the beginning they adopted the slogan, “Pakistan Jindabad,” (Victory to Pakistan). This policy faded away when they could not gain support from the government of Pakistan. Later they began to call for the establishment of an autonomous region instead. Pakistan’s attitude toward the Muslims in Arakan was different from the Islamabad’s policy toward Kashmiris.

1971 Independence War in Bangladesh

During the Independence War in Bangladesh most of the Muslims in Arakan supported West Pakistan. After Bangladesh gained independence Dhaka followed the policy of disowning those Chittagonians. Consequently they had to insist firmly on their identity as Rohingyas. Their leaders began to complain that the term “Chittagonian Bengali” had arbitrarily been applied to them. But the majority of the ethnic group, being illiterate agriculturalists in the rural areas, still prefers their identity as Bengali Muslims. Although they have showed the collective political interest for more than five decades since Burma gained independence, their political and cultural rights have not so far been recognized and guaranteed. On the contrary the demand for the recognition of their rights sounds a direct challenge to the right of autonomy and the myth of survival for the Arakanese majority in their homeland. A symbiotic coexistence has so far been inconceivable because of the political climate of mistrust and fear between the two races and the policy of the military junta. The Muslims from the other parts of Arakan kept themselves aloof from the Rohingya cause as well. Thus the cause of Rohingyas finds a little support outside their own community, and their claims of an earlier historical tie to Burma are insupportable."(Aye Chan, 2005).

After the end of the Independence War in Bangladesh some arms and ammunitions flowed into the hands of the young Muslim leaders from Mayu Frontier. On 15 July 1972 a congress of all Rohingya parties was held at the Bangladeshi border to call for the “Rohingya National Liberation” (Mya Win 1992: 3).

1982 Citizenship Law

Burma’s successive military regimes persisted in the same policy of denying Burmese citizenship to most Bengalis, especially in the frontier area.

They stubbornly formalized in the 1982 Citizenship Law that allowed only the ethnic groups who had lived in Burma before the First Anglo-Burmese War began in 1824 as the citizens of the country. By this law those Muslims had been treated as aliens in the land they have inhabited for more than a century.

According to the 1983 census report all Muslims in Arakan constituted 24.3 percent and they all were categorized as Bangladeshi, while the Arakanese Buddhists formed 67.8 percent
of the population of the Arakan (Rakhine) State (Immigration and Manpower Department 1987:I-14).

On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma,and the The Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, which caused the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan on 25-3-1971. These were the two critical date where Rohingya need to decide their national identity. The Rohingya was in dilemma after the separation of West Pakistan and Bangladesh due to their political decision to support West Pakistan during the war. It is pity that the communal leaders did not foreseen the political reality, and make the correct decision,which resulted in their stateless status after 1982. Bangladesh did not favor them as Bengali Muslims, and Myanmar did not accept as citizen; so the “Chittagonian Bengali”, and now Rohingya are in the difficult position.

Today, waves of Rohingya are leaving Myanmar for Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia. Most of boat people are departed from Bengadesh, not from Myanmar.

The view from original Arakanese

Some writers used Arakanese for Rohingya, which is wrong, the actual Arakanese are Rakhine people. The Rakhine or Arakanese had been in Arakan since ancient time, the 243 Rakhine kings had ruled Arakan for a long period of 5108 years. They had been independent kingdom until 1784. When the last Arakanese kingdom under King Mahathamada Razawas was annexed by Burmese king Bodawphaya(Bodawphara)in 1784.

As per Arakanese or Rakhine, the Rohingyas are not an indigenous ethnic group of Myanmar (Burma). There has never been such an ethnic group throughout the history of Arakan or Burma. The people called Rohingyas are direct descendants of immigrants from the Chittagong District of East Bengal (present day Bangladesh). The British colonial officials called them Chittagonians in their administrative records. The word “Rohingya” was first pronounced by the Mr Abdul Gaffar, an MP from Buthidaung, in his article “The Sudeten Muslims,” published in the Guardian Daily on 20 August 1951. The Arakanese claimed that most of Rohingya are the illegal immigrants from overpopulated East Pakistan(now Bangladesh). That is why the Myanmar did not recognized Rohingyas as citizen of Burma.

Why Rohingya are not citizen of Myanmar?

The indigenous ethnic groups of Burma are defined to be the ethnic groups who were already living in Burma before 1824 (i.e. before the First Anglo-Burmese War) because after this war some parts of Burma became British Colony and the British authorities imported foreigners to Burma. Those people were new settlers and therefore their descendants are considered to be citizens but not as an indigenous ethnic group. This is very similar to the "Bhummi Putra" (literally, "Son of the Motherland", here it means indigenous ethnic group) Law in Malaysia.

Rohingya was Chittagonian Bengalis, Chittagong was once controlled by Arakanese kingdom. There were some Chittagonian Bengalis, as a slaves during the war period and also as migrants during the ancient period, where the national border was not clearly defined. these early Bangali Muslim had assimilated to the local Arakan and Burmese culture and ways of life.

The mass influx of Chittagonian Bengalis was only after 1824, when the British captured control of Arakan after the first Anglo–Burmese War (1824-1826). Many Bengalis from British East Bengal came to settle in Arakan. When the British occupied Arakan, the country was a scarcely populated area. Formerly high-yield paddy fields of the fertile Kaladan and Lemro River Valleys germinated nothing but wild plants for many years (Charney 1999: 279).

After British controlled whole of Burma, it was under British India control. India and Burma were under one nation, with no border. Border crossings were easy. The Arakanese were the refugee in British Bengal after Burmese took over Arakan kingdom 1784. Many land owned by Arakanese was left unattended when the escaped to British Bengali.

In 1824,when British took over Arakan, it imported many Chittagonian Bengalis, who were facing shortage of land in their homeland; begin a mass migration to Arakan, when Burma and Bengali were under one country. Chittagonian Bengalis later on fight for independent Islamic state at Arakan, even after the independence in 1948; but were rejected.

The post 1824 Rohingya are culturally Chittagonian Bengalis. Most cannot speak Burmese and Arakanese language. The latest Bangladesh Bengalis were also moving to Arakan and other part of the world, due to their hard life in Bangladesh, they were mainly illegal economic immigrants. Arakan may be their first transit point prior to going oversea,may be to be classified as Rohingya for a legitimate refugee status. Some said Rohingya fake their story and history.....that is for the academic historian to research....

Hence, according to Burma, as the most, the name "Rohingya" could be accepted as an ethnic group now living in Burma like Chinese, Indian, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, but neither as an historical ethnic group nor can be recognized as an indigenous ethnic group of Burma.

Why Rohingya not accepted by Bangladesh?

Rohingya are Chittagonian Bengali Muslims, why are they not accept by Bangladesh?. It was because they support for West Pakistan during the Bengladesh independent war, and they are perceived as from Myanmar(even actually they were from Chittagong, Bengal living in Arakan state), where they were fighting for an Islamic state. After formation of Bangladesh, many non-Bangalli was not accepted as citizen, including Biharis Muslim. Other non-citizen included Rohingya, even they are Bengali Muslim.

Some of Biharis Muslim has been accepted for citizenship by Bangladesh, why not Rohingya? Is it because Rohingya are still waiting to become the citizen of their dream Islamic nation in Burma?.... only Rohingya know their own destination....


Biharis, who are Urdu-speaking Muslims originally from the Indian state of Bihar, have been living in Bangladesh since 1947 when the British divided the subcontinent into secular India and Muslim Pakistan. However, they lost their legal status after Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) gained independence in 1971. Since then, most of them (estimated between 250,000 and 500,000) have been living on the fringes of Bangladeshi society, with no right to participate in the country's political decision-making bodies, because they had sided with the West Pakistan (today's Pakistan) military operation against the natives in 1970.

Biharis were often perceived as privileged, their language was unpopular and they stood for a united Pakistan. The Bengali speaking majority had many genuine grievances against the federal government, dominated by West Pakistanis. Eventually the Bengalis elected Awami League with an overwhelming mandate and demanded realignment of the political system as well as redress of their grievances. In March 1971 there was extensive violence against the Biharis in East Pakistan. The federal government was able to control the rebellion for a few months however a political compromise could not be worked out between East and West Pakistan. India intervened militarily on behalf of the Bengali population and a civil war turned in to an international conflict. On 16th of December 1971 Pakistan was defeated and East Pakistan became Bangladesh. After independence of Bangladesh the flood gates of oppression opened wider, many thousands more Biharis were killed, all of their homes and businesses were confiscated, they were fired from their jobs, their bank accounts seized, their children expelled from schools and they once more had to seek refuge. International Red Cross created camps to save them from total annihilation. Most did not want to live in Bangladesh after the battering they had received. So half a million chose to leave for, what was left of their country, Pakistan.

Pakistan only accepted about one third of this population for repatriation. Estimated 250,000 have been living as stateless people in camps in Bangladesh for more than a quarter of a century. In 2007, Bangladeshi government said it was willing to grant citizenship to a large section of the Bihari population that has been treated as a refugee community for about 36 years. The central government in Dhaka declared that those Biharis born after 1971 (when Bangladesh emerged as an independent state on the world map) will be eligible to become citizens and thus could enjoy the right to vote and other advantages of government representation.

The political refugee and human right violation

According to Amnesty International, the Muslim Rohingya people have continued to suffer from human rights violations under the Burmese junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result:.

"The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced labourers on roads and at military camps, although the amount of forced labour in northern Rakhine State has decreased over the last decade."


Thousands fled to Bangladesh to escape a 1978 military census of the Rohingyas called "Operation Dragon".

In 1991, another wave of refugees fled to Bangladesh, where the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says 300,000 Rohingya now live a perilous, stateless existence.

On 25 November 2007, a trawler and two ferry boats carrying some 240 Rohingyas being smuggled to Malaysia sank in the Bay of Bengal. About 80 survived; the rest drowned. A week later, another boat sank, allegedly fired at by the Burmese Navy. 150 are believed to have perished. Many Rohingyas are ready to embark on a risky sea journey in order to escape oppression, discrimination and dire poverty. On 3 March 2008, the Sri Lankan Navy rescued 71 passengers, most of them Rohingya, from a boat that had drifted for 22 days in the Indian Ocean with a broken engine. Twenty had already died from starvation and dehydration. The Arakan Project estimates that, from October 2006 to mid March 2008, more than 8,000 boat people departed mostly from the coast of Bangladesh towards Thailand and then Malaysia, including about 5,000 during the sailing season from the end of October 2007 to the present.


Bangladesh was the destination of two mass exoduses in 1978 and 1991-92 of a total of 250,000 Rohingya refugees, each followed by a repatriation exercise often conducted under duress. To date, 26,000 remain in Bangladesh in two official refugee camps supervised by UNHCR. An estimated 200,000, including many repatriated refugees who then fled for a second time, have settled in precarious conditions in villages and semi-urban slums outside the camps or in an unofficial makeshift site near Teknaf, with little or no access to humanitarian assistance and protection.

Inside Bangladesh, Rohingyas are being persecuted and kept in miserable holding facilities. They cannot go home, they are not officially recognized as asylum seekers and they have nowhere to go. The 28,000 Rohingya refugees live in two camps, Kutupalang in Ukhiya and Nayapara in Teknaf, partly supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Myanmar army. Officially this campaign aimed at "scrutinising each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally." This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution."

"During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labour of Rohingya civilians by the security forces."

Repatriation of Rohingya refugees has remained a major problem between Burma and Bangladesh since 1991-1992, when more than 1 million people fled from Burma's northern Arakan State, seeking refuge in the neighboring country to escape persecution.

As of 2005, the UNHCR had been assisting with the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps have threatened this effort.

Despite earlier efforts by the UN, the vast majority of Rohingya refugees have remained in Bangladesh, unable to return because of the negative attitude of the ruling regime in Myanmar. Now they are facing problems in Bangladesh as well where they do not receive support from the government any longer.

Bangladesh has since announced it will repatriate around 9,000 Rohingya living in refugee camps in the country back to Burma, after a meeting with Burmese diplomats. Steps to repatriate Rohingya began in 2005.

Burma has agreed to accept 9,000 of the 28,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, announced in Dakha.

The refugees, who fled human rights abuses, forced labor and economic hardship in Burma, are living in two camps in the Cox's Bazar area of Bangladesh. Although conditions in the camp are rough, most of the refugees oppose the idea of returning to Burma. Chris Lewa, coordinator of the Arakan Project, said: “Any repatriation must be voluntary.” If Bangladesh forced Rohingya refugees to return by force, it would be an infringement of international law because of the human rights situation in Burma.

In February 2009, many Rohingya refugees were rescued by Acehnese sailors in the Strait of Malacca, after 21 days at sea.

Burmese authorities started building the 200km wire fence in March, saying it was intended to stop human trafficking. Burma shares a 320km border with Bangladesh, partly demarcated by the Naf River, a regular route for smuggling and illegal crossings by Muslim refugees.Soldiers in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, are forcing Rohingya refugees to build a barbed wire fence on the Bangladesh border. The fence they are building is designed to stop their own people from moving across the border.


Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but to be fair, Thailand is not alone in declaring that refugees are unwelcome. The problem of refugees versus economic migrants is so clouded that rarely are countries even willing to offer First Asylum, unless there are concrete assurances of repatriation or resettlement.

Over the years thousands of Rohingya also have fled to Thailand. There are roughly 111,000 refugees housed in 9 camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. There have been charges that groups of them have been shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand, and left there. In February 2009 there was evidence of the Thai army towing a boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea. A group of refugees rescued by Indonesian authorities also in February 2009 told harrowing stories of being captured and beaten by the Thai military, and then abandoned at open sea. By the end of February there were reports that of a group of 5 boats were towed out to open sea, of which 4 boats sank in a storm, and 1 boat washed up on the shore. February 12, 2009 Thailand's prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said there were "some instances" in which Rohingya people were pushed out to sea.

"There are attempts, I think, to let these people drift to other shores. [...] when these practices do occur, it is done on the understanding that there is enough food and water supplied. [...] It's not clear whose work it is [...] but if I have the evidence who exactly did this I will bring them to account."

The prime minister said he regretted "any losses", and was working on rectifying the problem.

‘The push-back’ policy, which exposes refugees to serious dangers. Malaysia did that with Vietnamese Boat People and was widely criticized for it. Thailand is being criticized for what has happened, and rightly so. It was reported that 550 Muslim Rohingyas are feared to have drowned after the Thai army forced 1,000 found in the Andaman Sea into wooden boats before towing out to international waters and cutting them adrift.


At the end of 2005, 11,000 were also registered for temporary protection with UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In previous years, several boats had carried Rohingyas to Malaysia via Thailand but their number swelled considerably from the end of October 2006. While the human rights situation in North Arakan remains a constant push factor, there has been no significant deterioration which would explain this sharp increase in boat people but rather the combination of several pull factors. Tighter security measures implemented by Bangladesh following the nation-wide bombing campaign by Islamic extremists in 2005 made the procurement of Bangladeshi passports very difficult. This coincided with stricter regulations governing the issuing of visas plus reinforced immigration control at airports in Saudi Arabia. As other alternative migration routes are now virtually closed to the Rohingyas, Malaysia is currently the only affordable Muslim destination and the sea voyage the only option for leaving Bangladesh and Burma without travel documents(Source: Chris Lewa,The Arakan Project).

The route, which for most starts in North Arakan with a brief transit in Bangladesh, passes through Thailand and continues overland to Malaysia. The sea crossing lasts about one week. As most, if not all, boats are captured upon arrival, the itinerary via Thailand is deemed safer. Arrest in Malaysia would mean a longer detention period and eventual deportation across the border to Thailand. Complex networks of smugglers and brokers, mostly but not exclusively Rohingyas, are involved at various levels in transporting Rohingya from North Arakan to Bangladesh, from Bangladesh to Thailand and, finally, overland from Thailand to Malaysia. The networks operate in collusion with law enforcement personnel in these four countries.

In order to escape discrimination and racist attacks many have taken refuge in jungles and abandoned places. However, Rohingya children cannot enrol in local schools because Malaysian law does not recognise their refugee status. The UNHCR has set up several small community schools which try to give these children a proper and structured education. Their stateless status further complicated the situation.

Note: On 7th April 2004, when a group armed with axes and knives burst into the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur, attacked embassy officials and set fire to the building.

Rohingya Dilemma

The Bangladeshi government do not want to take Rohingya; and Myanmar do not want them. They are stateless. A stateless,unregistered refugee....

From historical point of view, they were having two chances of having citizen status. 1948 after independence of Burma, and 1971 after the war of independence of Bangladesh. Rohingya spoiled their chances by having historically wrong decisions, mainly because of their political desire to form an independent Islamic nation in Burma territory. Now they are stateless. Politically and economically, Burma and Bangladesh as two of the world poorest nations, they will be happy to remove the Rohingya from their country, especially when Rohingya want to establish their own country and to have citizenship of their own nation......

I do not want to elaborate on the root of the problem and its controversy, like most people we perceived it as only refugee issue, but it is actually more than refugee issue, much more complicated than that, it is up to the readers to explore for the answer ..... we can understand a little of the reaction of Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

What will happen to their fate in 2010? Are they economic refugee or political refugee,or migration with security sensitive hidden agenda.....? Are the mass exodus of boat people really from Arakan, Myanmar? or a group of Bangalli stateless people from Bangladesh, planned by human trafficking operator? Most of the boat people departed from Bangladesh, and not Myanmar, where there are equally large number of stateless people. This resulted in difficulty in screening process to determine actual political refugee from Myanmar. That is UNHCR and government's work.

However, the urgency is on humanitarian aids for the woman and the children...the NGOs will have to play a major role since Rohingya refugee issue involved complicated political background.

Rohingya Organization

The following are the Rohingya organizations currently active on the Burma-Bangladesh border (Mya Win 1992: 3):

1. RSO (Rohingya Solidarity Organization)
2. ARIF (Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front)
3. RPF (Rohingya Patriotic Front)
4. RLO (Rohingya Liberation Organization)
5. IMA (Itihadul Mozahadin of Arakan)

There are report that Arakan Rohingya Nationalist Organization (ARNO) and Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) were among the groups who were trained in Afghanistan camps and were and are active in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Some reported they are involved in criminal and local terrorist activities.

Related articles

Articles 1-7 are more localized articles merely on refugee issues, which did not touch on the actual political and racial issues in Arakan state. Articles 8-12 are the articles focused on the background of the Rohingya at the Arakan state, which many may not be known by outsiders. These articles will revealed to you why Bangladesh and Malaysia, despite being Islamic countries,are not actively engaged, there were historical background that the countries would not feel easy. Myanmar has its own political and social agenda arisen from the past historical events.

1. Arakan Rohingya National Organization,
2. Brief Report on Rohingya in Malaysia 2009 ,
3. Malaysian Rohingya Sosaity(MRS),
4. Kehidupan Rohingya di Malaysia: Perjuangan dalam Ketidakpastian Hidup, by Tan Pok Suan,
5. Arakan Refugee Relief Committee (Malaysia) ,
6. Malaysia/Burma: Living in limbo: Burmese Rohingyas in Malaysia, Human Rights Watch,
7. Asia’s new boat people, by Chris Lewa , The Arakan Project
8. Response to the Press Release of the Rohingyas,
9. On the Evolution of Rohingya Problems in Rakhine State of Burma,
10. The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)(2005), by Aye Chan, published by SOAS ,Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, Autumn 2005, ISSN 1479-(Must read, this is the historical and academic article supported with fact and figure)
12. Who are the Rohingya?(2009), by AUNG TIN,
13. Mujahideen,
14. Myanmar's Rohingyas - who are they?(2010),

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