Rohingya Refugees Around the World

Rohingya Refugees

In this installment of Refugees Around the World, we're focusing on Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya people are a Muslim ethnic group who live in the Rakhine state of Myanmar (formerly Burma). The entire Rohingya population worldwide is estimated at less than two million, and currently 140,000 are displaced inside Myanmar while another 80-90,000 have fled the country. Their migration peaked in 2015 as increased persecution by the Myanmar government forced many of them to seek asylum in Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.


Why are Rohingya refugees persecuted? The Rohingya people practice Islam and are both an ethnic and religious minority in Myanmar. Though their persecution goes back many decades, in the last several years Buddhist nationalists have protested their residency in the country. The government has passed laws that effectively bar Rohingyas from acquiring citizenship, and without citizenship papers their access to housing, education, and other basic services is restricted. Their lack of citizenship also denies them freedom of movement and exposes them to land seizure, forced labor, and arbitrary arrest.

Many in the humanitarian aid community fear that Rohingya persecution may turn into genocide if not addressed by the international community. In 2014 during a UN census, the Myanmar government would not allow Rohingyas to register unless they listed their identity as Bengali. This action stripped the Rohingyas of their distinct ethnic identity after they has already been stripped of their rights as citizens and residents of Myanmar. In fact, many Rohingyas who still reside in Myanmar are forced to live in camps. They cannot leave, and others, especially doctors and humanitarian aid workers, are not allowed inside.


In 2015 thousands of Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar to seek asylum in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Most fled by boat, resorting to dangerous human smugglers to get them to their destination. Those who arrive safely in another country face conditions and treatment little better than they left in Myanmar. Some are held in detention centers indefinitely, while others are returned to Myanmar because they lack proper identification papers.

The crisis of Rohingya refugees fleeing by boat across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea has mirrored the crisis of those refugees making their way to Europe across the Agaean and Mediterranean in equally rickity boats. Yet, despite this similarity, the international media has all but ignored their plight. There are approximately 5,000 Rohingya refugees resettled in the US. Do some research to find out if there are any in your area and look into making a Rohingya refugee friend.

Further Reading

A 10 minute documentary on the plight of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Rohingya refugees in Chicago

An excellent article on the Rohingya Migrant Crisis

Amnesty International on Rohingya refugees.

Rohingya page on Joshua Project

Image Source: Flickr