BANGKOK - The Rohingya minority community in Myanmar should rank as one of the most excluded, persecuted and vulnerable communities in the world. That is the conclusion of a pair of studies, prepared over a three-year-period, looking at the plight of the stateless group.
The reports examining discrimination and inequality faced by the Rohingya paint a bleak picture.
The London-based Equal Rights Trust, and Bangkok’s Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University, detailed through direct testimony and interviews with officials the layers of discrimination against the Rohingya, who are a Muslim ethnic group of uncertain origin.
In Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, the Rohingya are stateless. Those who have left the country for Thailand and Malaysia lack legal status.
Dimitrina Petrova, the executive director of Equal Rights Trust, said the reports merely confirmed what had been suspected all along.
“We can confirm what we have actually suspected, but we are now quite confident in saying that the Rohingya people are perhaps among the most discriminated communities in the world,” said Petrova.
One report examines the situation for the Rohingya in Thailand, who have entered the kingdom by both sea and land. Approximately 2,000 of them, who were detained since last year as “illegal immigrants,” are understood to have “escaped,” according to Thai officials.
But Petrova told VOA that many were actually handed over to brokers for traffickers.
“In Thailand, what is really striking is that there’s a very high degree of collusion of Thai authorities with smugglers’ networks,” said Petrova.
Thailand is now run by a military junta, headed by appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. The former army chief carried out the kingdom’s latest coup on May 22.
The report on the Rohingya in Thailand and a second one on their situation in Malaysia both call for the two countries to heed “customary international law” to help all refugees.
The reports say Thailand has effectively pushed the problem on to Malaysia, the preferred destination for most of the Rohingya who have managed to leave Myanmar.
An estimated 37,000 Rohingya are in Malaysia, with another 15,000 awaiting U.N. recognition as refugees.
The government of Myanmar, a predominately Buddhist country, considers the mostly-Muslim Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh.
Rights groups are concerned about Myanmar’s plan to require all Rohingya in Rakhine state to identify themselves as “Bengali” or face indefinite confinement in detention camps.
Petrova called the plan totally unacceptable.
“The price they have to pay in order to be provided with the prospect to integrate is to not be Rohingya, to not be who they are - to adopt an identity which Myanmar is trying very hard to impose on them, that is Bengali. And everything is wrong with that. It constitutes a coercive deprivation of one’s identity. Few things can be worse than that,” said Petrova.
Known as the Rakhine State Action Plan, it has been widely condemned outside Myanmar.
The U.N. Office for Humanitarian Action said the restriction of free movement for hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is severely compromising their basic right to food, health, education and livelihoods.
Meanwhile, a new campaign was announced Friday to encourage young people in Southeast Asia to take a stand against human trafficking and exploitation in their communities.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing a $1.3 million grant to the U.N.-backed International Organization for Migration to bring about what they term “new behavior change” to fight the problem. USAID said the campaign “will leverage the power of media, technology and celebrities” to call attention to the crime of human trafficking and help put a stop to it.