Humanitarian Crisis: Understanding the Rohingya’s Plight in Two Sentences

Humanitarian Crisis: Understanding the Rohingya’s Plight in Two Sentences

I’ve been seeing news pieces about refugees since, well, since I can remember looking at a paper or watching TV news. Civil wars and genocide in Africa, natural disasters around the globe, more recently people fleeing Syria and conflicts in the Middle East, and now the Rohingya. It can be overwhelming. It can give you a sense that humanity won’t ever be able to treat each other with compassion and dignity, without hatred and violence. Sometimes I just want to look away, to disconnect from the suffering I feel I can’t do anything about.

But when we get to that point of despair, bottoming out on hope, maybe that’s exactly when our attention counts. When most people will sigh and lament the sadness of the situation but conclude, Not my problem. I can’t do anything about it – that’s the time to accept that it is our problem. We are defining what it is to be human as much as those who commit atrocities. And if we don’t step up and give it our attention, talk about it with others, make our voices heard, we are only contributing to that worst kind of humanity instead of the kind we want to be.

So please take some time to learn about the Rohingya people and the crisis they face today. You can get the main points from the first two sentences of each section, or a more in depth look at what’s happening.

Who Are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a unique ethic group of people, primarily Muslim, that have lived in a northern region of Myanmar (formerly Burma) for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They have been denied citizenship by the government and are considered stateless.

There are over 1 million Rohingya in Southeast Asia, primarily in an area known as the Rakhine State. They speak a distinct dialect known as Rohingya or Ruaingga and may be descendants of Arab or Persian traders. Living in a tenuous coexistence with a Buddhist majority for many years, in 1982 they were officially denied citizenship by the Burmese government and have been a stateless people ever since. Because of their status, the Rohingya enjoy little to no rights and have faced persecution for years, escalating to the current crisis.

Myanmar’s past has been fraught with colonization, invasion, and civil war and continues to suffer from corruption deep within its ranks. Though the Rohingya’s history in the area of what is now Myanmar is dated by some back to the 12th century, they are not considered one of the country’s ethnic minority groups. This is in part due to the fact that during British colonial rule (1824-1948) of Burma and India, the areas were considered connected and many people migrated back and forth. The government of Myanmar has never recognized them as citizens and treats them as illegals from Bangladesh.

What’s Happening to Them?

Now they face what may amount to genocide by the Myanmar military and police as well as deplorable conditions in refugee camps located mostly in Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands of people have fled. Reports of massacres, rape, and the burning of entire villages have been denied by the government.

Crackdowns and discrimination of the Rohingya people by the government of Myanmar (Burma) have been going on for decades. However, this past August violence escalated after militants attacked security forces and the army retaliated with a “clearance operation.” Though the Burmese Army claims to be combating terrorists, more than 688,000 Rohingya have fled the region just since last August due to violence and destruction. The scope and brutality of this operation was labeled as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad. The atrocities committed by the Myanmar army, ignored or endorsed by many of its people have reached a new height. Recent revelations of mass graves of those murdered by the army call into question if the actions of Myanmar amount to genocide. The UN estimates over 1,000 people have been killed; others estimate the number to be closer to 3,000.

Those that survived the violence have fled, but nowhere is a welcome home. Estimates of up to 900,000 people may be living in neighboring Bangladesh. Camps are in deplorable condition and now threatened by mudslides during the monsoon season. Neighboring to the south, Thailand has a sordid history of handling refugees, leaving the Rohingya in a bad situation no matter where they turn.

What About Aung San Suu Kyi?

Known for enduring house arrest for 15 years, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party gained power in Myanmar in 2015, bringing hope to a country historically repressive. A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, she has gone down in history as a champion for democracy and human rights, but is now glaringly silent on the Rohingya issue with some even questioning whether she deserves the Peace Prize.

Lady Freethinker celebrated with the rest of the world in 2015 when Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power. Nobel laureate, famous for her dedication to democracy, at first her silence regarding the Rohingya was met with confusion and a tense patience by the world. But as the silence has shifted to denials and excuses, she faces more and more criticism. Undoubtedly in a tenuous political position due to the fact that the Burmese government is still in large part controlled by the military, Aung San Suu Kyi has nonetheless disappointed the world by her actions. Much of the Buddhist majority nation has little sympathy for the Rohingya, and speaking out could anger the military and Buddhist nationalists. However, pressure is mounting for her to live up to her reputation as a champion for human rights.

Global Response

Labeled as “the most persecuted minority in the world,” the United Nations has instigated its second highest investigation action, yet repeatedly been denied access or only given interviews with a chosen few. The United States has ended military aid and considered sanctions against the country.

UN Human Rights Council has attempted to send a fact finding mission in to assess the situation up close but has been refused. However, the team has taken testimony from refugees and is expected to report to the UN General Assembly in March. There is also a possibility of a special investigation and criminal charges on individuals involved in what may be declared genocide.

Though the U.S. House passed a bill condemning the ethnic cleansing, the legislature has not gone so far as to pass sanctions against Myanmar. Some legislators are opposed to sanctions, believing it will harm Aung San Suu Kyi’s position and destabilize the country further. When President Barak Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the country, hope was rising for democracy in the nation and an opening up to the world. However, many now believe that it could take generations to repair the damage that has been done.

Your response

If you’ve gotten this far in the article, you’ve already made a good start in educating yourself and turning your attention to the social justice of a people in crisis. The next steps are to share with others what you know, let your Representatives know that you believe the Myanmar government should face consequences for their crimes, and get involved at some level with an organization that is trying to help.

The New York Times published an extensive list of NGOs and nonprofits as well as their steps to be involved with the Rohingya.

Amnesty International has been at the forefront of calling out Myanmar. They have a petition targeting the commander of the army, Min Aung Hlaing.

It’s always a good idea to check on or Charity Navigator for ratings on charities.

Note: Please keep comments peaceful and family friendly.

Join the Conversation


  1. Anne West

    This situation is deplorable. Right minded people have to make a stand. Don’t let these people suffer under a blanket of denial x open the situation up…exposure is the only way to go x

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  2. Leanne

    This is a deplorable and unacceptable situation.

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  3. susan rudnicki

    We traveled to Burma in 2014 to visit my son who was living in Rangon. My old naivete about Bhuddism and the “gentle religion” was shattered by the realities we saw. The monks of the country stir up Nationalistic hatreds about the superiority of the Bhuddist majority and that the Rohingya are evil and depraved. The rich are ensconced in their mansions, raking in fabulous sums while raping the country’s oil, minerals, forests, and natural beauty. The experience was shocking—and the rest of the capitalist world—Europe, China, India, Canada, the US—are jostling in line to get their share of the booty. Aung San is a disgrace to her father’s legacy and his death at the hands of the military.

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  4. Jacqueline

    This breaks my heart…what can we do ? Write to our countries and ask..what exactly ? Does anyone know how to get in touch with that woman Aung San Su Ki ? We have to let her know that she is not a friend of peace and freedom. She is a slave of greed and stupidity. And she should give back her Nobel prize. At once !

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  5. Harry Mozen

    If they weren’t Muslims they would be free. Their god is named “Sin”. No kidding, his name is “Nannar” or “Sin” and he is the god of the Moon. He, like all the gods, is mortal, but has a very long life span. The jist of Buddhism is compassion, with no god. Compassion is their god. The government probably doesn’t want any Muslims. All they, the Rohingas, likely have to do is to think for themselve and renounce Mohammedism and theywould have what they want and need.

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  6. Brian Swale

    A lot of the facts about this topic have been omitted. Firstly, I have seen videos showing the Rohigya imams radicalising scores of their young men to attack and vandailse and burn down the homes and businesses of the non-believer Buddhists. The actions of the Myanmar army were in retribution for this violence. Secondly, you should read this serious article by Hugh Fitzgerald .

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  7. Karen Levins

    They are Muslims! They make their own trouble because they live by an evil, hateful, murderous, women hating, child abusing, Islamist rule. Buddhists don’t want them and even Hindus don’t want them. Frankly, I don’t want them because of their sharia law! Why do we never hear of all the evils Muslims are committing in the name of Allah in every country that they dominate? Also why are we not hearing of the plight of Christians under Islamic rule? And what about the white people in South Africa whose land has been taken from them and who are being murdered?

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  8. Karen Levins

    Also, plenty of Christian black Africans are being murdered and raped in North Africa by Muslims! And lets not forget the cesspool they are making of Europe and the UK!

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  9. susan rudnicki

    This is a extremely simplistic analysis. You may believe that “compassion” is the “jist” of Buddhism, but I saw for myself, and my son lived in the country 3 years and told us, they are a people as much eager for social elitism, flagrant material consumption, twisting of Buddhist “ideals” and degradation of their fellows as in any other country or religion. The Buddhist majority in Burma have NO compassion for those who do not look or think like them, and the religious leaders spout hateful dogma to encourage the less educated to turn their hatred on the Rohingya. It has worked—I suggest you read this—the “Face of Buddhist Terror”

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  10. susan rudnicki

    jcqueline—what you can do is support the NGOs trying to expose this, report it, and help the people. Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders

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  11. Lynn

    We are guilty of something, we hate, love, kill, save, we’re evil, compassionate!!!! We’re either living or existing, struggling or coping. Good Vs bad. Religion & Politics are the two major factors of war. Also fighting over land & profit. For everyone to live in peace is a very big ask, so killing, raping, bigotry,greed will go on, as it has for thousands of years. Peace comes at a big price it’s called ‘Forgiveness’ . All people can’t/won’t do everything, but most people can do something, that includes ALL world leaders & ALL governments. Well now I’ve stated the obvious!!??

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  12. HayleyEmberey

    To allow this to happen, some of humanity has gone so far off track, am preferring to say just visiting this beautiful planet with a hellhole of insanity residing in so-called civilised, compassionate human beings. Our species has become madder than ever and some of those whom profess to care in power seem don’t seem to give a care for fellow human beings suffering. What is wrong with these inflicted, affected potentially decent beings whom could change things to make lives better rather than worse? Talk about losing the plot, talk about the most selfish egos, talk about lack of spiritual alignment, talk about lack of wisdom, lack of inner connection to oneness, love, compassion, care, kindness. Hope those whom could do something really get it. Now. A New Better Earth would be good, about time.

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  13. cindi scholefield

    I am so disappointed with, and disgusted by, the attitude displayed by Aung Sang Sou Chi, I can hardly even bear to look at her. If she is so afraid of losing her position by offending the military, then let her get out and perhaps someone with REAL courage can step in. She has let the world down. I agree. Strip her of the prize. She has shown that she does not deserve it.

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  14. Rebecca

    I thought buddhists were thoughtful, caring people who embraced every living thing… what a joke

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  15. Endlesspath

    Western Political Correctness aside – it takes “two to tango”. Islamic societies (Rohingya in this instance) have typically spread the faith via “the sword” (I know, I lived in Turkey for 4 years, and have been posted in the mideast multiple times). There has been a longtime ongoing conflict between the Rohingya and surrounding regional villages (comprised of buddhists primarily). The most recent series of village vs village fights occurred in 2012, with associated an Rohingya insurgent attack on security forces on August 25, resulting in 71 deaths, at least 59 militants and 12 soldiers. Of course, the western world in the zeal for PC agenda “sanitizes” one side of the story. Tit for tat, this is the real world.
    Neither event or agenda is right, but it is what it is – western PC pushed aside, it is nothing more then fighting fire with fire. This is the real world outside of western society’s illusion of reality.

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  16. Thomas

    The Nobel Prize lost all its meaning when they gave one to Obama for doing absolutely nothing.

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  17. susan rudnicki

    Endless path—the situation is not occurring in Turkey—or the Middle East—so for you to characterize the people as one homogeneous mass of “Islamic societies” is sophomoric. You apparently did not read the posts below, where I sent a note indicating there is MUCH about the media presentation of this situation as a humanitarian crisis and horror show is not “western world PC agenda hyperventilating. My son lived in Burma 3 years and traveled widely. I trust his assessment more than your simplistic view and a sense of “oh well, this is the “real world”” One which probably does not endanger your life in any measurable way.

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  18. susan rudnicki

    Brian Swale—so, your source of reliable information is David Horowitz and Robert Spencer”s “Jihad Watch”??? This is NOT factual sourcing or dispassionate crisis reporting or verifiable journalistic ethical writing. “Robert Spencer has been described by some civil rights organizations including the Southern Poverty Law Center[42] and Anti-Defamation League[43] as a hate group leader.”

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  19. Endlesspath

    susan rudnicki – I post this only because you have made a personalized retort to myself and to Brian Swale. You are quite the SJW; without a doubt you have never left your own home country and experienced the real world. You rely solely on your son’s omniscient experience and disregard all others. I am quite certain I have seen and experienced more in danger outside of the U.S. then you have in your reading & viewing forays as SJW.
    Disregard reality all you want – the world is nothing more than armed camps of religions and philosophies continually in oscillating strife. The Rohingya are facing what they are now, as a result of the earlier actions by their own jihadists within their own Islamic faith. Whether which “side” is right or wrong is for God to decide.

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  20. susan rudnicki

    I have traveled the world in my 62 years, (including extensively in Burma) so your characterization based on NO evidence is misplaced. Your “certainty” of your personal view and “reality” ( a more abused word hardly exists) is typical tripe I read all the time from people deciding some other God is going to decide things. Just because there are “armed camps and philosophies” does not make the actions of bullying majorities acceptable.

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  21. Kylie T

    Things need to change and NOW; very sad.

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