News / Asia

Rohingya Refugees Stir Debate on Rising Sectarian Violence

An Indonesian policeman guards ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar as they wait inside a police truck for identification by immigration personnel in Lhokseumawe, Feb. 27, 2013.
An Indonesian policeman guards ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar as they wait inside a police truck for identification by immigration personnel in Lhokseumawe, Feb. 27, 2013.
Kate Lamb
Burma's Rohingyas

  • A Muslim minority, they have been denied Burmese citizenship
  • Not allowed to move freely
  • Most live in Rakhine State near the Bangladesh border
  • Thousands of Rohingyas were displaced in 2012 violence
  • Tens of thousands live in camps in Rakhine
  • In 2012, an estimated 13,000 tried to leave Burma on smugglers' boats in the Bay of Bengal, hundreds drowned
A boatload of 121 Muslim Rohingya fleeing Burma arrived off the Indonesian coast of Aceh this week. They are just some of thousands of Rohingya fleeing Burma by sea, in a deadly exodus that the United Nations plans to discuss at a conference in Jakarta next month. Human rights groups worry the situation could lead to more sectarian violence.  

Tensions between Burma’s Rakhine Buddhists and ethnic Rohingyas have festered for decades.
 
Violence erupted last year when communal attacks in Arakan state left hundreds of Rohingya Muslims dead, and 100,000 displaced.

Last week, an angry Buddhist mob targeted a non-Rohingya Muslim community in the capital Rangoon, hurling bricks as they attacked shops and a school. What started the violence is unclear. Some news reports indicated residents mistakenly thought a new mosque was being built.
 
Nyunt Maung Shein is president of Burma’s Islamic Religious Affairs Council. At an interfaith conference this week in Jakarta, he argued that although recent events have fomented suspicion, relations between Muslims and Buddhists in Burma are mostly harmonious. He said the recent violence in Rangoon was instigated by a small minority.

“It’s more about politics. Actually it is not due to a crisis of religion… It is a political play, not due to the discrimination and religion,” said Shein.

Former Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla agreed. He visited Burma’s Rohingya camps last year and has worked to defuse bloody sectarian conflicts in Indonesia’s Aceh and Maluku.
 
Kalla said that often conflicts that appear to be fueled by theological differences are underscored by economic, rather than faith-based, issues. “Rohingya is not only a religious problem. Politically, historically, culture, economics, and a religious problem. It is complex,” he said.

Ethnic Rohingyas - some of whom have lived in the country for generations - are denied citizenship in Burma.
 
The Burmese government has consistently said the Rohingya issue is a question of ethnicity, not religion.

But there are concerns the still unresolved status of the Rohingya is destabilizing a country still in political transition.  
 
Phil Robertson, deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said last week’s violence in Rangoon has exposed the vulnerability of inter-religious harmony in Burmese society. He said "once that discriminatory standard is set that some have rights and some don't, in a multi-ethnic country like Burma, this is a profoundly dangerous lesson to draw because, it opens the door for other sorts of abuses, for other sorts of mob actions."

"And, this is the thing that the international community needs to work with, you know, people of good will in Burma to really sort of draw a line underneath this and prevent further violence from taking place,” he added.
 
Indonesia has been involved in efforts to resolve the Rohingya issue in Burma.
 
Last year the Indonesian government donated one million dollars in aid to alleviate suffering in Rakhine state. And Foreign Minister Marty Natalagewa pressed the government to resolve the legal settlement of the ethnic Rohingya.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid