A Must Read Report on Burma’s Stateless Rohingya

21 Jan

This past fall, I met with officials from the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, who were investigating the situation faced by the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group living in Northeastern Arakan State, Burma, and in Bangladesh. The Rohingya face systemic discriminatory policies that keep them in a state of constant poverty and statelessness. In Burma the average person makes around $2 a day and lives with very limited access to electricity, clean water, health care, and education. The Rohingya have a standard of living far below that dismal average.

Last week The Arakan Project released this tremendous and devastating report on the challenges faced by Rohingya children.

Here are some key points from the report (which is worth reading in full)

  • Rohingya Population: approx: 730,000 + 200,000 living as refugees in Bangladesh.
  • Statelessness: The Rohingya are denied citizenship and are constantly referred to as “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,” a baseless claim. Recently a senior govt official had this pleasant thing to say about the Rohingya:

“In reality, Rohingya are neither “Myanmar People” nor Myanmar’s ethnic group. You will see in the photos that their complexion is “dark brown”. The complexion of Myanmar people is fair and soft, good looking as well. (My complexion is a typical genuine one of a Myanmar gentleman and you will accept that how handsome your colleague Mr. Ye is.) It is quite different from what you have seen and read in the papers. (They are as ugly as ogres.)

  • Rohingya children are not given birth certificates (therefore no proof for citizenship). However parents are forced to register their children and pay a fee to do so.
  • Rohingya parents are limited to having two children.
  • Blacklisted Babies: Children born to unregistered parents or as a 3rd+ child are not recognized by the state. They are not allowed to travel. They are hidden during population inspections. Despite the obvious problems arising from this it means they are severely screwed later on in life as well. No state recognition means no education, no job, no marriage license = no children (at least no legal children).
  • Restriction of movement: Rohingya must apply for travel permits to leave their village tract. This = corruption, lack of medical care/education for children, division of families and lots of other terrible things.
  • More than 70% of the avg Rohingya’s income spent on food = Acute Poverty
  • 5 Doctors / 710,000 people in two of the primary Rohingya Townships. That is .000007/1000 Drs/Person. In Sierre Leone, a pretty shitty place by most metrics, there are on avg .03/1000.  (more comparisons here)
  • Literacy rate = 20%(estimated): This is 6.2% worse than the literacy rate in Mali, the country with the lowest literacy rate by UNDP  estimates.
  • Oh yeah, and there is a lot of child labor and the nastiness that goes with it.

So while news out of Burma these days leaves a lot of room for optimism, none of the news reflects any changes to the situation faced by the Rohingya, and there is little reason to think that their situation would improve significantly along with the rest of the country, if it did improve significantly.


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