Religion and the Crisis of Displaced Persons: The Rohingya

By: Lena Musoka

March 16, 2023

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The Rohingya Tragedy: A Brief Background

The Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic minority group, face systematic persecution in Myanmar (Burma) and as a result many are refugees or internally displaced within Myanmar. Denied citizenship rights since 1982, they are the “world’s largest stateless population.” The largest group of refugees and asylum seekers are in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh. The Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps there are among the world’s largest.

Forced Migration: Causes and Trends

The Rohingya trace their presence in Myanmar to the fifteenth century but their troubles in modern times are linked to official policies that deny them rights (including citizenship), widespread Islamophobia in majority-Buddhist Myanmar, and acute tensions and violence above all perpetrated by Myanmar’s military. Attacks, considered by the UN and others as genocidal, in 2012 and 2016 led thousands of Rohingya to flee from Myanmar, and in 2017 almost a million Rohingya fled, primarily to Bangladesh. More than half of the refugees who fled to Myanmar in 2017 are women and children. Following the February 2021 military coup d’état in Myanmar, faltering talks on repatriation have essentially stalled. In Bangladesh, refugees have been accepted and receive support but the situation in the camps is abysmal, with the presence of violence as well as fires and other catastrophes.

This essay provides context for ongoing research under the Religion and the Crisis of Displaced Persons project, which is intended to sharpen analysis and contribute to the international effort to address what is one of the world’s most complex and demanding challenges. Contributors in this series weigh in on causes and trends of forced migration among the Rohingya.

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