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Culture of Rohingya People Under UNHCR Report 2018.pdf



The Rohingya constitute the largest Muslim minority group in Myanmar. Over the last decades, discrimination and oppression have resulted in the mass displacement of Rohingya from and within Myanmar, with substantial numbers fleeing to neighbouring countries and beyond, including Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia, India, Thailand, and Indonesia [1–3]. Since late August, 2017, the exacerbation of violence and military operations in the northern townships of Rakhine State, where the majority of Rohingya resided, has led to more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing across the border into Bangladesh [4].

Myanmar, in the past known as Burma, is a country located in South-East Asia and bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the northeast, Laos to the east and Thailand to the southeast. The southern half of the country reaches the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. The country’s largest city and former capital Yangon is situated in the southern delta region of Myanmar. Naypyidaw, newly-constructed city located to the north of Yangon, was officially declared to be Myanmar’s newcapital in 2006.

The population of Myanmar comprises approximately 51 million persons with nearly 30% of the population living in urban areas [6, 7]. It is an ethnically and religiously diverse country, with 135 officially recognized and recorded ethnic groups as well as several other ethnic groups, such as the Rohingya, that are not officially recognized. The majority ethnic group are the Bamar, who constitute about two thirds of the population, and who dominate the military and government. Myanmar has seven regions (or divisions) that are largely inhabited by the Bamar [8].

Additionally, there are seven states, named after the ethnic minorities residing in that state: Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan [8, 9]. The regions and states are divided into 74 districts and sub-divided into 413 townships [7].

Rakhine State has five districts and 17 townships [10]. It is one of the poorest states in Myanmar with an estimated 78% of the population living in extreme poverty [11, 12]. The largest ethnic groups in Rakhine State are the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya. A smaller Muslim group in Rakhine State are the Kaman, who are recognized as citizens by the government [10, 13, 14]. Until recently, Rakhine State was home to around 1.2 million Rohingya, comprising around approximately 40% of the total state population [15]. Accurately estimating the Rohingya population is difficult because they are excluded from census data by the government [16, 17]. Roughly two-thirds of theRohingya resided in three northern townships of the state: Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung (Yethedaung) [18]. Rohingya were the majority ethnic group in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, the only townships in Myanmar with a majority Muslim population.

In the eighth century, people living in the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal in what is currently called Bangladesh and Myanmar, converted to Islam under the influence of Arab traders [19, 20]. The Rohingya trace their history to that period [21, 22]. The Muslims in Rakhine State strongly self-identify as Rohingya but this term is not used as an indicator of an ethnic group in government documents and in Myanmar the term is controversial [12, 20, 23].

The government of Myanmar does not view Rohingya as taingyintha (‘natives of the soil’) [24] but considers them to be descendants of Bengal migrants who migrated during British colonial rule in the 19th and 20th century from more northern coastal areas, in what is now Bangladesh [25, 26]. Discussions about the ethno-history of the Rohingya and the origins of the term Rohingya have become highly polarized and sensitive [21, 27, 28].

Hostile attitudes towards the Rohingya fuelled a long history of systematic violence and discrimination, although there have been relatively better times: In the period from independence (1948) till the military coup (1962), Rohingya had full citizenship rights, and could serve in Parliament [17, 29]. During the military rule, their situation worsened and their civil, political, educational and economic rights were gradually stripped away [30]. The 1982 Citizenship Act enforced the exclusion of the Rohingya people from the list of officially recognized minority ethnic groups and denied them many basic rights including citizenship, freedom of movement, access to healthcare and education, marital registration rights and voting rights [31]. This effectively rendered them the largest stateless group in the world.

In spite of a series of political and economic reforms in the last decade led by former President Thein Sein, violence and discrimination against ethnic minority groups continued, although Rohingya were allowed to vote and serve in Parliament in the


2010 general election. Anti-Muslim sentiments have been provoked by Buddhist extremist groups who have created public support for systematic campaigns of violence and discrimination against Rohingya [22, 32]. While previously the ethnic groups in Rakhine State had a history of positive community relationships and close mutual dependency, relations between the Rohingya and other ethnic groups have become increasingly complex and sensitive since 2012 [21, 22, 32].


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