Islamic Help

Rohingya Emergency Appeal FAQ

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a minority ethnic group in Myanmar (known until 1989 as Burma). Prior to August 2017, the Rohingya population in Myanmar was estimated at between 1.1 million to 1.3 million, but now, nearly half have fled to other countries.

The majority of Rohingya are Muslim (a minority are Hindu) and speak a dialect of Bengali. Most live in the northern part of Rakhine state along the border with Bangladesh and India. They make up about a third of the population of Rakhine in the west of Myanmar.

In total, Myanmar has a population of nearly 55 million (source: World Bank 2017) and 90 per cent of its people are Buddhists. Muslims make up about 4 per cent of the population.

What is the Rohingya History in Myanmar?

The Rohingya trace their origins in the region back to the 15th century when it was known as the Arakan Kingdom. During colonial rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many others arrived and settled in Rakhine as labourers. Some Rohingya people also claim they are descendants of 8th century Arabs or Persians.

The Myanmar government has claimed that the Rohingya are Bengali and that they entered what was then Burma during the time of the British Empire, or as illegal immigrants after Bangladesh’s war for independence in 1971.

What is the Status of the Rohingya in Myanmar?

Most of the Rohingya are mired in poverty in Rakhine, which is Myanmar’s least developed state. According to the World Bank, more than 78 per cent of households here live below the poverty threshold.

Since Burma’s independence in 1948, successive governments have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. They are regarded as illegal Bengali immigrants, despite having lived in the country for centuries.

What Rights do the Rohingya Have?

In 1982, the ruling military junta of Burma introduced a law which stripped the citizenship of those Rohingya who had been granted the status following the country’s independence in 1948. Because of this, most of the Rohingya have no legal documentation and are refused access to essential services such as health and education. As a result, they are effectively stateless.

Until recently, the Rohingya were able to register as temporary residents with identification cards, known as “white cards,” which the regime issued to many Muslims (both Rohingya and non-Rohingya) in the 1990s. However, these were withdrawn in 2015, revoking the holders’ right to vote in elections or referenda.

In 2014, the Rohingya were only allowed to take part in a UN-backed national census, the first in 30 years, if they registered as Bengali.

What is the History of Rohingya Refugees?

Over the years, ethnic and communal violence has flared repeatedly between the Rohingya and Buddhist nationalists, forcing many of the Rohingya to flee the country. It’s been estimated that since the late 1970s, more than 1 million Rohingya have fled to other countries.

According to Al Jazeera, and based on information collated from aid agencies, since that time Bangladesh has taken in 625,000 Rohingya refugees; Pakistan 350,000; Saudi Arabia 200,000; India 40,000; Malaysia 150,000; Thailand 5,000 and Indonesia 1,000.

In 2012, when more than 280 Rohingya were killed and tens of thousands displaced, Human Rights Watch described it as amounting to crimes against humanity and part of a “campaign of ethnic cleansing”. This claim of ethnic cleansing was also made by a senior UN official in 2016 and the UN has since described the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

The displaced Rohingya have been forced to take shelter in squalid camps. More than 500,000 people are displaced and rights organisations have estimated that more than 140,000 internally displaced Muslims are housed in 40 internment camps which they are not allowed to leave.

In 2016, military and police raids on camps and villages led to dozens of deaths and more displacement throughout the year.

What is the Latest Crisis?

The latest unrest in Rakhine started in late August 2017 when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. A counter offensive was launched by the army in which at least 400 people were reported killed and entire villages razed to the ground. Satellite imagery released by Human Rights Watch showed fires burning in several areas over 100 kilometres long.

In the week beginning August 25th, 2017, more than 123,000 Rohingya refugees poured into Bangladesh, according to the UN. About 90 per cent of the new arrivals were women, children and the elderly (Unicef). In less than one month, that figure had soared to more than 420,000 – more than half of them children – with an estimated 20,000 refugees crossing the border daily.

Where are they Migrating to?

Bangladesh: Most Rohingya have sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh which is already home to more than 34,000 registered refugees. Estimates put the number of unregistered Rohingya refugees at anything between 200,000 and 500,000.

There are additional problems for the refugees in Bangladesh. Already one of the world’s poorest and most crowded nations, it is struggling to cope with the influx, especially in Cox’s Bazaar in south-east Bangladesh where many of the refugees are located.

Conditions in many of the camps are dire and the government has ordered its border guards to stop people entering the country illegally, leaving thousands stranded in a ‘no-man’s land’ between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Bangladesh government is also pressing ahead with much-criticised plans to develop an isolated and flood-prone island, Thengar Char, in the Bay of Bengal to temporarily house tens of thousands of refugees.

India: The authorities in India have declared their intent to bar Rohingya refugees by stopping new arrivals and stating that it will move on the 40,000 refugees who have arrived in the country over the last decade. Less than half of these refugees (about 16,500) are registered with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

Malaysia: More than 90 per cent of Malaysia’s 150,700 registered refugees are from Myanmar (figures: June 2016). Rohingya refugees in Malaysia have no legal status, are unable to work and cannot access education or health services.

Thailand: A destination or stopping point used by migrants who have fled Myanmar by undertaking perilous sea journeys. They are also often at risk of piracy and trafficking by the very people they pay to transport them who are often pirates and smugglers.

Approximately 12 of every 1,000 people who embark on mixed maritime movements from the Bay of Bengal do not survive the boat journey. This means that as many as 2,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya may have died before ever reaching land between 2012 and 2015. (UNHCR Feb 2016)

Indonesia: The Rohingya have also sought refuge in Indonesia, although the number of refugees there remains relatively modest. The official refugee population is 1,000 but there are believed to be several thousand more that are unregistered.

What is Islamic Help Doing to Help the Rohingya?

Islamic Help has been providing aid and assistance to Rohingya communities in Myanmar and refugees in Bangladesh for the last few years. For example:

•             In 2016, 600 Rohingya refugees were provided with Ramadan food packs in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. In Myanmar itself, we provided food and water to more than 9, 000 individuals across the Sitwe region in Rakhine state

•             In 2015, our teams distributed food aid to more than 3,000 people in Rakhine along with other support (including water and medical services) to 1,700 refugees in Indonesia

•             In 2014, we provided Qurbani meat to more than 3,800 people in Myanmar including Muslims and Buddhists as part of an opportunity to build peace between the communities

Restrictions imposed by the Myanmar government on aid and humanitarian agencies, including even the UN, mean we cannot deliver inside Myanmar at the time of writing.

However, once those restrictions are lifted, we intend to resume our work which is carried out by our partners on the ground.

In Bangladesh, we will continue providing Rohingya aid for refugees during this crisis. This includes:

•             food packs, each designed to last a family for at least 2 weeks. One food pack costs just £30

•             family survival packs consisting of a family food pack, hygiene pack, utensils and other essentials. Each survival pack is £100

•             shelter packs including a tent, bedding and other essentials. Each shelter pack is £150.

What Can I Do to Help the Rohingya?

We can only help refugees with your support. Your generous Rohingya donation will be used to provide desperately needed emergency aid. So please donate to Rohingya refugees and give whatever you can, today.

0121 446 5682