The Plight of the Rohingyas

By: Muhammad Ala Uddin  

Since the 1980s, the Rohingya have faced severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, and considered to be illegal emigrants from Bangladesh. Often described as “the world's most persecuted minority,” the Rohingya found their ways to escape state-sponsored persecution to Bangladesh. In an attempt to escape the recent “ethnic cleansing” (UN, 2017) in Rakhine at the hands of state military forces and Buddhist nationalists, since August 2017 half a million Rohingyas have crossed the border into Bangladesh, joining another half million that made similar journeys in the previous years. In response to the relative absence of comprehensive study on the issue, this paper offers a critical and constructive account on the roles of religion in the Rohingya refugee crisis — both in the creation and in the response to the problem. Accordingly, I conducted empirical research (November 2017–February 2018) at refugee campsites in Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh, where approximately one million Rohingyas currently live in horrendous conditions. Comprehending the underlying factors that forced the Rohingya to flee from Rakhine to Cox's Bazar, I suggest that religious dissimilarity can be considered a leading cause of persecution in Myanmar, while religious similarity encouraged their flight to Bangladesh in particular. In the process, I also explore the impacts of the refugee situations on local Bengali lives in Bangladesh. Given the role of religion in the Rohingya's persecution, I argue that religion is a possible resource to facilitate negotiations (e. g. inter-faith dialogue, religious insights and spirituality) towards a sustainable solution to the humanitarian crisis.

Rohingya, Refugee, Religion
Religious Commonalities and Differences
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Muhammad Ala Uddin

Professor, Anthropology, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh