Refugee Council of Australia
Refugees, mostly girls, in camp

Key issues for refugees from Myanmar (Burma)

The Rohingya

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya people are an ethnic Muslim minority who have been in Myanmar for centuries. They cannot be granted citizenship in Myanmar and are in effect stateless. They have been discriminated against for decades. They are not one of the official ethnic groups in Burma. Instead, they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Background to the Rohingya crisis

They have suffered arbitrary arrest, forced labour, sexual violence and official discrimination. Most live in Rakhine state, one of the poorest parts of Myanmar.

Many fled to Bangladesh in the 1970s and early 1990s. Most returned, but thousands remained in Bangladesh. Over a million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar since the early 1990s.

Timeline of Rohingya crisis

Two waves of violence swept Rakhine State in June and October 2012. Myanmar’s security forces actively participated in killing and torturing the Rohingya and destroying their properties. The violence displaced more than 140,000 people. It marked a turning point in the relations between the Rohingya and other communities in Myanmar.

Report of Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar .

In October and November 2016, the army mounted a violent security operation. This led to more than 70,000 Rohingya fleeing.

A UN report documented mass gang rape, killings, brutal beatings and disappearances.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Flash Report .

The Rohingya crisis from 2017

From 25 August 2017, Myanmar’s armed forces terrorised the Rohingya. This followed attacks by a militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

The army’s ‘clearance operations’ has killed thousands of Rohingya civilians. People were forced to disappear. People were brutally gang-raped on a massive scale. Hundreds of villages were burned. An estimated 10,000 people died.

From 25 August 2017 to 31 July 2019, over 742,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh. This was one of the largest and most sudden mass displacements in history.

Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder

UNHCR – Rohingya Emergency

Most fled within the first month of the terror. They have settled in the Cox’s Bazar district, in the largest refugee settlement in the world. They live in extremely crowded conditions, and are at high risk of flooding, cyclones and landslides.

UNHCR – Rohingya refugee camps

Rohingya stranded on boats

In April 2020, boats carrying Rohingya refugees were stranded for weeks. These were the first confirmed boats since 2015. The Rohingya reported being intercepted by governments and denied entry.

UNHCR media release

One of these boats landed on Langkawi island in Malaysia, with 202 people on board. They were detained. Malaysia also denied entry to boats because of the COVID-19 crisis. On 15 April 2020, the Bangladeshi coast guard rescued nearly 400 people that had been prevented from landing by Malaysia.

Another boat carrying 28 Rohingya, rescued in late April, has been rescued by Bangladesh but sent to Bhasan Char. Bangladesh has announced that all newly arrived Rohingya would be sent there.

Australia’s response to the Rohingya crisis

Australia’s main response to this crisis was to provide humanitarian aid. Over $50 million was committed.

However, Australia has resisted calls to resettle the Rohingya. Some Rohingya have been held offshore or in detention, including a man stuck on Manus Island who jumped off a moving bus to his death.

Australia has not offered to lead in dealing with the Rohingya crisis. In 2015, boats of Rohingya were stranded as Asian countries refused to take them. Australia’s then Prime Minister famously said ‘Nope, nope, nope’ when asked if Australia would resettle them.

Australia’s response to the Rohingya crisis

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