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[S]uffering from severe human rights violations, the stateless Rohingya refugees of Burma have taken refuge around the world.
After Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, civil war broke out when many ethnic nationalities and the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) took up arms against the central government headed by U Nu. In Rakhine State both Rakhine and Muslim groups formed armed opposition groups who fought against the government. It was only by the early 1960s that the tatmadaw, or Burmese army, captured the main positions of these groups, and reached cease-fire agreements with the Muslim organizations.
For decades, the xenophobic, Burman-led military junta has refused to recognize the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority living in western Burma, as one of the country’s many ethnic nationalities. As a result, Rohingya have suffered human rights violations and a vast majority of them have been denied official recognition of citizenship.
Rohingya are subjected to countless forms of discrimination, including extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and destruction of their homes; and restrictions on marriage and movement. Rohingya continue to be used as forced laborers on roads and at military camps. In 1978, a Burmese army campaign of killing, rape, destruction of mosques, and religious persecution drove 167,000 Rohingya across Burma’s porous border with Bangladesh. Under intense international pressure, the Burmese government eventually allowed many of the Rohingya who had fled to return. But from 1991 to 1992 a new wave of Burmese repression forced over 250,000 Rohingya to flee back into Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, the UNHCR officially recognizes approximately 28,000 Rohingya as refugees. They live in squalid camps where medical care is inadequate, where the majority of children and adults suffer from malnutrition, and where employment within or beyond the camp is forbidden. Access to formal education is rare and women are vulnerable to sexual violence and forced marriage. The great majority of Rohingya in Bangladesh are outside the camps where they barely survive and constantly endure ill health, abuse, and exploitation, including from recruiters for Muslim fundamentalist groups. Rejected by the Bangladeshi government and fearing persecution in Burma, it is estimated that close to half a million Rohingya are living illegally in Bangladesh.
Very recently, with the support of the international agencies, donors and human rights organizations, Rohingyas have been resettling in the USA, UK, Sweden, and Australia and in a few other countries in Europe.
(Saiful Huq Omi | The Disowned and the Denied, PRIVATE 53 – Hope, pages 44-49)