Rohingya crisis explained: Why the minority Muslim group is fleeing Myanmar
On Monday, the United Nations denounced Myanmar’s “brutal security operation” against Rohingyas in Rakhine state and called in a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
When did the recent violence start?
The crisis erupted on Aug. 25, when an insurgent Rohingya group attacked police outposts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. That prompted Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations” against the rebels, setting off a wave of violence that has left hundreds dead and thousands of homes burned — mostly Rohingya in both cases.
The government blames Rohingya for the violence, but journalists who visited the region found evidence that raises doubts about its claims that Rohingya set fire to their own homes.
WATCH: Mass exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar spiralling into humanitarian disaster
Where is Myanmar?
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar – formerly known as Burma – is a small nation located in southeast Asia, on the border of Thailand, Laos, China and Bangladesh.
According to a 2014 census, the country has a population of more than 52 million people.
The country is officially a Buddhist state, and there are 135 distinct ethnic groups living there.
Who are the Rohingya Muslims?
The Rohingya represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with an estimated 1.1 million living in Rakhine State, according to the UN. They are considered to be the world’s largest stateless ethnic group.
The government of Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, meaning they face many barriers, including on their movement, access to the economy, education, health and other rights.
The persecution has forced nearly one million Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh since 1977, with many more seeking refuge in other countries, according to the U.N.
Where are the Rohingya people fleeing?
There is currently a mass exodus to the neigbouring country, Bangladesh, which has been overwhelmed with the influx of refugees — many of whom arrived hungry and traumatized after walking for days through jungles or being packed into rickety wooden boats.
The few refugee camps in Bangladesh are “bursting at the seams,” according to the UN. As a result, refugees have started squatting in makeshift shelters that have mushroomed along the road and on available land in the area.
“The vast majority are women, including mothers with newborn babies, families with children. They arrive in poor condition, exhausted, hungry and desperate for shelter,” UNHCR said in a briefing note for reporters in Geneva.
Many refugees, especially children, are now becoming susceptible to waterborne diseases due to an acute shortage of clean water and sanitation facilities, as well as the common cold and fever.
Although the recent violence erupted in August, in October 2016 around 75,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after Myanmar’s army carried out a security operation in response to deadly attacks by Rohingya insurgents on border posts.
A UN report from February, based on interviews with some of the Rohingya refugees, said Myanmar’s security forces have committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya in a campaign that “very likely” amount to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.
WATCH: Thousands of Rohingya refugees trapped in veritable ‘no man’s land’
Many of the Rohingya who recently flooded into refugee camps in Bangladesh told of Myanmar soldiers shooting indiscriminately, burning their homes and warning them to leave or die. Others said they were attacked by Buddhist mobs.
The Myanmar military has said nearly 400 people, mostly Rohingya, died in clashes. It blames insurgents for setting the villages on fire but hasn’t offered proof.
What Canada is saying
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a media release. Trudeau conveyed his deep concerns over the situation in Rakhine State and emphasized the urgent need for Myanmar’s military and civilian leaders to take a strong stand in ending the violence, the media release stated.
Last week, an online petition started circulating that called for Trudeau to revoke Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship. Suu Kyi, who is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was awarded honorary citizenship in 2007 by the former Harper government.
WATCH: Justin Trudeau refuses to criticize Myanmar leader amid crisis
But the petition says much has changed since then and said Suu Kyi no longer deserves the recognition.
“What is happening under Aung San Suu Kyi’s watch in Myanmar right now is about as far as you could get from the ‘ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law’ that were the basis of her receiving her honorary Canadian citizenship,” the petition reads.
— With files from Global News’ Maham Abedi and the Associated Press
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