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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Secret Service Head: White House Security Lapse 'Unacceptable'

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid