The United Nations is calling it the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis;” one million people have fled their homes; officials say one thing, but satellite images show another story. What is happening in Myanmar? Here is everything you need to know about the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

An overview of Myanmar:

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country that sits on the eastern border of Bangladesh, on the southwest border of China, and along the northwest border of Thailand. With a population of 53 million, Myanmar has many minority populations, but is primarily a Buddhist nation. An oppressive military junta ruled the nation from 1962 until 2011. In 2016, Myanmar saw its first free and democratic election of its government, with Htin Kyaw elected president. The politics of Myanmar are particularly tricky. Although Htin Kyaw is president, he is really just filling the seat as a proxy for the true face of the pro-democratic movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, an activist most known for her peaceful approach to change the country from military to civilian rule.

Source: Courtesy of BBC; The Arakan Project, October 2017

Who is being persecuted?

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group that live in Myanmar’s western state, Rakhine. Rakhine’s population is majority Buddhist, with the Rohingya living in the northern townships of Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung. Since the rise of Buddhist nationalism in the 1990s, the discrimination of the Rohingya has increased. Many citizens believe the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although Bangladesh does not recognize them either. With a population of one million, the Rohingya are the largest “stateless” group of people in the world. Several organizations have publicly condemned the persecution, including the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, stated that “the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” However, the United Nations Security Council has yet to impose sanctions.

What is actually happening?

The latest burst of violence started in August 2017 when a group of Rohingya militants launched an attack on at least twenty police posts. Seventy people were killed, including twelve security officials. This sparked the Myanmar government to crackdown on security. The country’s officials state that the military’s presence and its actions are to curb militant insurgencies. Thousands of Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh and provide a vastly different account of their life in Rakhine. The refugees were originally turned away at the border. Bangladesh officials began to suspect something much more treacherous was occurring, and the Rohingya were allowed to cross. Survivors state that their villages have been burned to the ground, women have been brutally beaten and raped, babies have even been thrown into fire. The Myanmar government continues to deny these acts, and even went as far to say that the Rohingya burned their own villages to frame the government. BBC reporters  witnessed firsthand the atrocities brought on the Rohingya people and were some of the first western journalists to contradict the government’s statements. After major backlash from the international community, Aung San Suu Kyi clarified in a late-August statement that security force operations had ended. However, satellite imagery and eyewitness reports all come together to prove that almost 300 villages have been partially or destroyed by fire in September, an entire month after Suu Kyi claimed the military presence had ended.

Source: Courtesy of BBC; The Human Rights Watch: Satellite Image, September 21st 2017

In early 2018 Bangladesh and Myanmar came to a repatriation agreement which would return the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar over a two-year period. An estimated 1,500 Rohingya will return to Myanmar a day. The international community continues to voice concerns over the return of the refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concerns for the reintegration of the Rohingya people and stressed the potential for continued persecution. Dozens of refugee camps, funded by the international community, have been set up along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border to ease transitions.