Libmonster ID: SE-292
Author(s) of the publication: A. A. SIMONIA


Candidate of Economic Sciences

For several years now, at the end of the year, at the most favorable time for navigation, thousands of people leave their homes in western Myanmar and embark on a dangerous sea journey across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to reach the shores of Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia.

This annual migration process is constantly growing, but in the winter of 2008 - 2009 it became especially large-scale. More than 6 thousand people on dozens of fragile fishing boats went in search of a better life. This attracted media attention, and photos of "people in boats" began to appear on the pages of newspapers and on television screens. As the media's attention to the process grew, the number of refugees increased rapidly. Reports of the Thai Navy's mistreatment of incoming migrants - they were sent back to the open sea without water or food-caused a particularly large response.

These "boat people" are unrecognized Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine State (formerly Arakan) in western Myanmar.

In early 2009, the Indonesian Coast Guard rescued about 400 migrants from Myanmar, who, according to the victims, had been at sea for about three weeks and were in critical condition at the time of the rescue. The rescuers reported that representatives of the migration services of Thailand beat them and forced them to go back to sea. Previously, similar reports were received from the Indian Coast Guard in the Andaman Islands. The survivors said that the Thai authorities detained them for illegally entering the country and, after holding them for two days on a desert island, sent them on the same dilapidated boats to the open sea, providing them with a small amount of rice and water, which was only enough for one day. During the past winter season, 1,190 people were sent to sea in this way, of which only 650 were rescued by Indians and Indonesians.1

who are they? COME FROM WHERE?

The Myanmar Government initially did not respond to reports of these dramatic events. Then came the statement that the Rohingya were not citizens of Myanmar, and all these events were related only to citizens of Bangladesh.2 During the ASEAN Summit in Thailand (February 27 - March 1, 2009), representatives of Myanmar stated that only those "Bengalis" who recognize themselves as such by origin and prove that they were born in Myanmar (Burma)will be able to return to the country3. Burmese oppositionists abroad, the main and constant critics of the military regime in Myanmar, also remained silent this time, since most of them also do not consider the Rohingya to be one of Myanmar's ethnic minorities.

The number of Rohingya, according to experts, is about 2 million people. Approximately 800 thousand are in Myanmar, 200 thousand in Bangladesh, including 30 thousand in special refugee camps. The rest are scattered throughout the region: half a million are in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as migrant workers, 50 thousand in Malaysia, and some have reached Japan and Australia.4 There are no exact statistics, as the situation is constantly changing. Rohingya men and boys are leaving their homes and making dangerous journeys across the Andaman Sea in search of a living to send money to their relatives living in abject poverty. None of the countries is ready to accept them and grant them refugee status, calling them "illegal economic migrants". But for the Rohingya themselves, people without citizenship, there is no difference between these concepts.

Myanmar authorities believe that the name Rohingya originated only in the 1950s. However, there is evidence from British historians, in particular the Scottish scientist Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, who worked in the colonies at the beginning of the XIX century, that it comes from the word "Rohandj" - the ancient name of Arakan (now Rakhine) - as the locals called themselves - muslims 5. In this state of Myanmar,

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Bordering Bangladesh, there are two main ethnic communities-Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

Some historians claim that the first Muslims to settle in Arakan were the Arabs, who appeared here at the end of the VI century A.D. The Burmese conquered the territory of Arakan in 1784. The Islamic journalist Habib Siddiqui believes that the Rohingya -"...descendants of Muslims who have absorbed the heritage of all those who settled in Arakan-Arabs, Turks, Persians, Mughals, Bengalis and some Mongoloid Indians. " 6

Unlike the Rakhine people, whose Arakan language is considered a dialect of Burmese, the Rohingya people use the Chittagong dialect of Bengali with elements of Persian, although related to Bengali, which the Bengalis do not understand. The official point of view of the Myanmar government is that Rohingya Muslims are natives of Bengal, who entered the territory of Buddhist Burma en masse during the British rule and received economic support from the British colonialists who ruled Arakan for 123 years - from 1827 to 1948. Currently, the Myanmar authorities consider them representatives of Bengalis permanently residing in the country.

The Rohingya settled on the territory of the Arakan state even before the annexation of this territory by colonialists. In colonial times, they lived both in Arakan, isolated by mountain ranges from central Burma,and in India. After the demarcation of the border between India and Burma in 1948, most of these people found themselves on the territory of independent Burma. During the period of parliamentary democracy in the 1950s, the Rohingya were recognized by the Government of Ufa as one of the indigenous ethnic groups. But when the Military Revolutionary Council led by General Ne Win came to power in 1962, the Rohingya lost their political and constitutional identity. Arakan Muslims were declared "illegal immigrants" who settled in Burma during the years of British rule.


In 1974, the so-called Emergency Immigration Act was issued, aimed at reducing immigration from India, China and Bangladesh. According to this Act, all citizens of the country were required to carry passports or certificates of national registration. The Rohingya representatives were denied these passports; at best, they could have obtained a foreigner's immigration card. In 1982, the Government of the Socialist Republic of Burma Union (SRBS) issued the Citizenship Act of the SRBS, which effectively removed the Rohingya from the status of an indigenous ethnic group. At the time of the general population census completed in 1983, the Rohingya people were no longer included in the lists of ethnic minorities and thus were declared stateless by exclusion.

The current military regime also did not recognize the Rohingya and confirmed their status as dispossessed. A statement issued by the Myanmar Foreign Ministry on February 26, 1992, states that although there are currently 135 nationalities living in the country, the so-called "Rohingya" are not among them, and historically there has never been such a nationality in Myanmar. 7

The lack of a registration card did not initially affect the privacy of the Rohingya. However, in 1978, the Government launched the Nagamine ("Dragon King") program, under which registration checks were initiated to take action against foreigners entering the country illegally. In Arakan, this resulted in the" cleansing " of the Rohingya region by army units and local Arakan Buddhists. Operation Nagamine caused a mass exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh, where by May 1978 200,000 people were placed in refugee camps, where they lived in the most difficult conditions; during the year, 10,000 people died of hunger. Most of the refugees were later repatriated to Burma.

The second mass flow of refugees to Bangladesh occurred already under the current military regime, after the pogroms in 1991, Almost a quarter of a million people were displaced by army units on the territory of Bangladesh in the border areas of Teknaf and Cox's Bazar. During this operation, hundreds of Rohingya were killed and their villages burned. In Bangladesh, too, no one was waiting for them, and they were placed in temporary refugee camps, and later, with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, they were forcibly returned to Myanmar. Since 2006, Bangladesh has tightened its border controls.-

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troll, after which the Rohingya began to embark on a dangerous sea journey by boat to the coast of Thailand, then move to Malaysia in search of work.

Bangladesh says the flow of refugees from Myanmar has never stopped, with some fleeing persecution and others seeking better conditions to survive. Unofficial sources call the figure: 400 thousand Rohingya now live in Bangladesh 8. Dhaka explains that the poor state with a population of 150 million people cannot accommodate a large flow of refugees. The presence of Rohingya in the country is damaging to the environment, as they inhabit the hills and cut down trees on them.

But the point, apparently, is also that relations between the two countries are very difficult. There is a constant threat of armed conflict over the demarcation of the maritime border. The reason is the presence of disputed territories of the coastal shelf, which have significant natural gas reserves. The last time the two countries were on the verge of armed conflict was in October 2008, which is why the number of army battalions in western Myanmar has increased from 3 to 43 since the early 1990s. Today, this region has the largest concentration of armed forces in the country.

The Rohingya people were also unlucky to find themselves in the vicinity of major economic projects. State Council for Peace and Development (SPDC) Myanmar is increasing its presence in the region to ensure the security of major infrastructure facilities. In December 2008, the Chinese energy company Petrochina signed a 30-year contract with Myanmar for the purchase of natural gas from the Shwe field, located on the offshore coast of Rakhine. Gas will be delivered via a pipeline to the Chinese province of Yunnan, and Middle Eastern oil will also be transported there via a parallel pipeline. Although the majority of Rohingya live northwest of the planned pipelines, the dramatic increase in the number of military personnel in the region has worsened their already miserable existence.


The Rohingya are denied the right to be full citizens of the country. At best, they can get the status of "associated or naturalized" citizens, but they can also lose this status if they are disloyal to the authorities. They do not have the right to serve in the army, police, or hold administrative posts. Due to the lack of Rohingya in these structures, the administration, military and police treat them especially harshly: they often demand bribes, more zealously conduct "sweeps" in search of rebels, expel Rohingya from their homes, deprive them of their property. The land of the peasants can be confiscated or forced to grow rice for the army free of charge.

The Rohingya are also forced to perform various kinds of duties in army camps: cutting wood, serving as porters, diggers, builders, cooks - all, of course, for free. As noted above, due to the increased military presence in the region, three to five military camps are usually located around each village. Attempts to escape from forced labor in the mountains or in the forest, leaving family members to guard the house, lead to women being abused, used in support jobs, or held hostage until the "rebel husband" returns. Non-Muslim courts have been given the opportunity to intervene in the process of entering into or terminating Muslim marriages. Rohingya are deprived of freedom of movement even between villages, which limits their opportunities for trade, employment, education, and medical care.

It is difficult to understand the origins of such hatred of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Thailand, although it is possible to try to find some explanations. The reasons include problems of national security and illegal immigration, as well as nationalism and racism.

The methods used by Thailand are shocking, but not unexpected. The ever-increasing flow of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar to southern Thailand has forced the authorities to tighten migration policies. Between 2007 and 2008, hundreds of Rohingya were captured in the south of the country and sent to the Thai-Burmese border checkpoint in Mae Sot. Thailand sees the Rohingya invasion as a threat to national security. The country's authorities suspect that among the refugees are Islamic mercenaries disguised as migrant workers, whose goal is to support militant Muslim separatists in the south of the country.

In 2008, the then Prime Minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaraway, threatened to send the Rohingya to a desert island. Apparently, the threat was serious. Thai security forces held the Rohingya on the uninhabited island of Koh Sai Ding for some time in late December 2008 before throwing them back into the sea. The operation was led by Colonel Manas Kongpan, who had already been tried for involvement in the mass murder of Thai Muslims in a mosque. In his opinion, Thailand's policy on this issue is consistent with international practice. "It is the journalists who are making a fuss and slandering Thailand and its armed forces," he said in an interview with the Bangkok Post9. According to the Thai Navy, during the winter season of 2008/2009, more than 4 thousand people tried to land on the coast.

page 29

the Rohingya. The country's new Prime Minister, Abhisit Veichachiva, sees the Rohingya as economic migrants rather than political refugees.

The main" destination " of Muslim refugees from Myanmar is Islamic Malaysia, where small colonies of Rohingya migrant workers already exist in the cities of Kuala Lumpur and Penang. But Malaysia, like Indonesia, cannot accept all comers, fearing that the flow of visitors will become endless.

The incidents involving "people in boats" in the winter of 2008/2009 gave the world community a reason to once again accuse the Myanmar military leadership of human rights violations, genocide and racism. But the history of Rohingya and Burmese coexistence has always been difficult.

For centuries, Rohingya Muslims have lived relatively peacefully with Rakhine Buddhists. The situation changed during the Second World War. Clashes broke out between the two ethnic communities, which were instigated by third parties, especially the Indian rajas. During the pogrom in 1942, about 100 thousand Rohingya were killed, and another 80 thousand left their homes.

In the early 1950s, shortly after Burma gained independence, the Muslims of Arakan attempted an armed uprising, demanding the creation of an autonomous entity within the country. Although this short-lived Mujahideen insurgency did not gain widespread support among the Rohingya, the response was a massive crackdown on Muslims. They lost all their positions in local government, and many lost their property.

After the military coup in Burma in 1962, the Rohingya formed several military groups. Two of them - the Rohingya Solidarity Organization and the Arakan Islamic Rohingya Front - merged in 1996 to form the Rohingya National Alliance. In 1998, the Arakan Rohingya National Organization was established on the basis of this alliance.10

After the resettlement of Rohingya to Bangladesh in 1991-1992, paramilitary groups began to form in refugee camps. According to Amnesty International, in recent years these groups have broken up into several small detachments and established small military bases along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. It is unlikely that they have many followers, but it is nevertheless possible that these resistance groups are linked to foreign extremist organizations. About 350,000 Rohingya live in Pakistan, where elements of religious extremism are particularly strong. Small groups of Rohingya who went to terrorist training camps in the Middle East have not returned to Myanmar.11 At the same time, it should be noted that there have been no cases of Islamist-related terrorism in Myanmar/Burma so far.

Not the least role in the rejection of this people, apparently, is played by the traditional arrogant attitude of Burmese people towards South Asians, who differ from them in their darker skin color. In the Burmese language, there is even a special contemptuous word kale, meaning " emigrant from South India." When accusations of human rights violations rained down on Myanmar in early 2009 due to the escalating problem of "people in boats", the country's Consul General in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, sent a written explanation to his partners - the heads of missions of other countries. The letter, which used far from diplomatic expressions, demonstrated the depth of official rejection of this people. The Consul General "clarified" to his foreign colleagues that " ... the Rohingya are neither Myanmar nor a Myanmar ethnic group." "You can see from the pictures in the newspapers that their skin color is dark brown, unlike the beautiful Burmese, who have light and delicate skin, and these... scary as hell " 12.


The Rohingya are often referred to as the "forgotten people", but this is not entirely correct. Over the past 20 years, this people has received more attention from the international community than any of the 135 ethnic groups inhabiting Myanmar. Since 1991, various international and non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, the UN High Commission for Refugees, Doctors without Borders and others, have been constantly monitoring their situation and regularly preparing reports on this topic. Refugees in camps in Bangladesh, as well as those remaining in Arakan, survive only thanks to the International Food Program and the UN High Commission for Refugees. Since February 2001, the Rohingya issue has been covered in English and Burmese by a special website created in Chittagong, Bangladesh, by representatives of the Rohingya people in exile. To the world

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The facts of harassment and persecution of the Rohingya are well known, but no one seems to be able to help them.

The leaders of the ASEAN member states, discussing this issue during the Association's summit in late February and early March 2009, agreed only that hundreds of Rohingya should be returned to Myanmar and that the issue should be considered at the Bali Process Forum. At the same time, the terminology was updated: now the Rohingya are called "migrants in the Indian Ocean".

After a six-year hiatus, the 3rd Regional Conference on Illegal Migration and Related crime was held in Bali, Indonesia, on 14-15 April 2009. Ministers and high-ranking officials from 36 countries discussed migration and uncontrolled refugee flows, which pose a threat to the region's states. The fate of the Rohingya was the main issue at the forum, although the issue of refugees from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka was also raised. Members of the Bangladesh delegation were the most vocal. Referring to the experience of repatriation of refugees with the participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1978 and 1991-1992, the representatives of Bangladesh once again stated that these people belong to Myanmar.

The Bali Conference failed to develop an algorithm for concrete actions to address the problem, as Myanmar's position on the issue of Rohingya citizenship remained the same. As the co-chair of the forum, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs S. Smith, stated, this sensitive issue cannot be resolved quickly, but the conference helped to draw attention to this issue. Australia is concerned about the poor living conditions and increasing marginalization of these people, both in Myanmar and in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The Minister announced that Australia will provide $ 3.2 million for the project. for humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya people living in Rakhine State (Myanmar) to provide them with acceptable living conditions 13.

At the Bali Process Forum, it was necessary to decide at least the fate of those migrants who were at that time in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand.

Moreover, the situation with Rohingya in Bangladesh is getting worse. Refugees from Myanmar are trying to enter its territory through the Naf River, along which the border runs, and women and children are fleeing in this direction. The authorities of Bangladesh and Thailand now practice a policy of "pushing back" to avoid burdensome legal procedures for combating illegal migration. According to the law, illegal immigrants are sentenced to 6 months in prison, but the Myanmar authorities refuse to take them back, so the terms of imprisonment are stretched.

Since the construction of the wall along the border between the two countries began by Myanmar in March 2009, Bangladesh's border guards have increased their vigilance and are immediately expelling anyone who tries to cross the border into Myanmar. In early May 2009, the media published reports of attempts by refugees from Myanmar to cross the border in several groups, including by sea. In March 2009, Thailand and Myanmar agreed that it was urgent to identify all Rohingya migrants in Thailand, and Myanmar agreed to take back those with registration cards.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called on the Myanmar Government to immediately begin temporary registration and issuance of documents to help the Rohingya return home. They also offered assistance in building housing, providing medical care and implementing an agricultural program for repatriates. For this purpose, the High Commissioner allocates $ 10 million. 14

However, the Rohingya problem belongs to the category of national-ethnic relations that cannot be quickly resolved using traditional methods and approaches. Apparently, this problem will continue to complicate relations between the countries of the Indian Ocean region and attract the attention of the international community for a long time to come.

1 South China Morning Post. Hong Kong. 10.03.2009; Agence France Presse, 11.02.2009.

2 Agence France Presse, 29.01.2009. Rohingya not included in national races of Myanmar // The New Light of Myanmar. 30.01.2009.

3 Asian Tribune. 2 03.2009.

4 The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group from Myanmar // Associated Press. 29.01.2009.

5 The curse of historical rivalries in Arakan State of Burma // Kaladan Press Network. 14.04.2009.


7 The Straits Times. Singapore. 25.02.2008.

8 Ibid., 8.03.2008.

David Scott Mathieson. 9 The Plight of Burma's Rohingya // Global Asia. Seoul. 2009. Vol. 4, N 1, p. 89.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw. 10 No place at home for forgotten minority // The Straits Times. 25.02.2008.

David Scott Mathieson. 11 Op. cit, p. 87 - 88.

12 Myanmar envoy brands boatpeople 'ugly as ogres' // Agence France Presse. 11.02.2009; South China Morning Post. Hong Kong. 10.03.2009.

13 Brisbane Times. Australia. 15.04.2009.

14 The Nation. Thailand. 21.04.2009.


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