To understand the matter we need to to trace the historical origin of the conflict. The crises is a spillover from a conflict stretching over the last 300 hundred years or more.
The Rohingya are a minority ethnic group living in the Myanmar (Formerly known as Burma).
At present they are about 800,000 to about 1.3 million people. Although they live belong to Myanmar, the government denies them citizenship or any rights.
Neighboring Muslim countries of Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia have turned a blind eye to their sufferings, and at times have increased their sufferings.
Who are the Rohingya people? Why are they persecuted?
The 1784 Burmese invasion of Arakan was considered by historians as a genocide for its ruthlessness massacre of Arakanese population of both Rohingya and Rakhine groups. In the month of December, 1784 Burmese king Budapawa attacked Arakan with 30,000 soldiers and returned with 20,000 people as prisoners, destroyed temples, shrines, mosques, seminaries, and libraries including the Royal library. Muslims serving the Royal palace as ministers were also massacred.
During the time of the Burmese invasion of Arakan, Chittagong came under the British rule. The British never attempted to rescue the Arakani king to his throne. To escape the brutal attack of the Burmese King both Muslims and Hindus of Arakan fled to safety in Chittagong
Traditionally Burmese cruelty was such that ” to break the spirit of the people, they would drive men, women and children into bamboo enclosures and burn them alive by the hundreds.” This resulted in the depopulation of minority groups such that “there are valleys where even today the people have scarcely recovered their original numbers, and men still speak with a shudder of ‘manar upadrap’ (the oppression of the Burmese).”
Source: Harvey, 1947, 161; A Short historical background of Arakan
In 1824 a decisive war between the Burmese and the British took place resulting in the British occupation of Arakan. By now due to the merciless massacre, Arakan almost became depopulated.
The British adopted the policy to encourage the …inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into fertile valleys in Arakan as agriculturists. After the British conquest, despite the memories of horror, but naturally out of nostalgia, some Rakhines and Rohingya refugees from Chittagong returned to Arakan.
The Rohingya themselves, and some scholars, say they are indigenous to Rakhine State. Muslims have lived in Rakhine, once known as Arakan, for centuries, although it is not clear whether the Rohingya of today descend directly from those Muslims.
AlJazeera Documentary – Rohingya: Silent Abuse
In 1962, General Ne Win took over power and confiscated most Indian and Chinese owned businesses in Rangoon and began his Burmanization policy which advocated that “Burma is for Burmans,” referring that Burma is for racially Mongoloid and religiously Buddhist people. Ne Win first began a policy of “divide and rule” in Arakan between the Mogh and the Rohingyas.
His government identified the Rohingyas as “Indian Bengalis” from Chittagong migrated to Burma during the British period beginning from 1826.
Their government insists that they are in the country illegally, and most neighboring countries refuse to accept them.
In 1978 an officially recorded 207,172 Rohingyas took shelter in Chittagong. UNHCR and Amnesty International investigation found out that Rohingyas were carrying Burmese National Registration cards and certificates with Burmese seal testifying their Burmese nationality.
This revelation by international agencies, forced the Burmese government to accept the Rohingyas back to Arakan.
In 1982 the military rulers passed the Citizenship Act in which it made a povision that Burmese people’ ancestors who came to settle in Burma before 1826 will be considered as “foreigners.
In 1990-92 again over 2,68,000 Rohingyas were sent back to Bangladesh. This time the Burmese government made sure that Rohingyas do not carry any official Burmese document
In the last three years, more than 120,000 members of the Muslim minority, who are intensely persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have boarded ships to flee to other countries
Why is Myanmar government denying their rights?
They have been evicted from their homes and kicked off their land, and attacked by the military and by Buddhist extremists in Rakhine, the western coastal state where they live. Their voting rights were effectively revoked.
A 1982 law in Burma states that in order to be officially recognized as a minority, a group has to be able to show that their ancestors were living in Burma prior to 1823, which is when the British overran Rakhine. Much of the Rohingya people state that this fact is true and that their ancestors made travel to Burma many generations ago, however, they have no proper documentation to prove their claims.
It seems that the Rohingya people officially do not exist in their own countries.
President Thein Sein denies that the Rohingya exist as an ethnic group, and he refers to them as Bengalis, suggesting that they are from Bangladesh and therefore subject to deportation.
The Bangladesh government denies that Rohingya from Myanmar are actually Bengalis, as the Myanmar government insists. Bangladesh has been trying to close its borders to the migrants.
Bangladesh’s humanitarian record regarding the Rohingya has in some ways mirrored Myanmar’s. In August 2012 Bangladeshi authorities ordered three NGOs – MSF, Action against Hunger and Muslim Aid UK – to stop the formal delivery of humanitarian services to undocumented Rohingya refugees.
Three way, human ping pong played with Rohingya people
“The Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian navies should stop playing a three-way game of human ping pong, and instead should work together to rescue all those on these ill-fated boats,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch Asia.
Southeast Asia, which for years tried to quietly ignore the plight of Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya, now finds itself caught in a spiraling humanitarian crisis that in many ways it helped create.
In the last three years, more than 100,000 members of the Muslim minority have boarded ships, fleeing persecution, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
But governments at the same time respected the wishes of Myanmar at regional gatherings and avoided discussions of state-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingya.
Thailand: Its navy says that it has given aid to migrant boats in its waters, and it has indicated that it may be prepared to allow refugee camps on its shores. But it does not want permanent settlers, and few Rohingyas want to settle in the country even if the alternative is to remain on cramped boats.
Malaysia: This is the choice of destination for most Rohingya travellers, especially because it is predominantly Muslim and short of unskilled labourers. But Malaysia has made clear that it will not accept boatloads of migrants and has ordered its navy to repel them.
Indonesia: Like Malaysia is a Muslim country and like Malaysia has made clear that the Rohingyas are not welcome, with its navy turning away boatloads of migrants. A group of migrants who made it ashore in early May may be expelled, the government has warned.
Despite appeals by the U.N. and aid groups, no government in the region — Thai, Indonesian, Bangladesh, or Malaysian — appears willing to take the refugees, fearing that accepting a few would result in an unstoppable flow of poor, uneducated migrants.
Last year, Myanmar unveiled a controversial plan offering Rohingya citizenship if they changed their ethnicity to Bangladeshi in origin. For the Rohingya, calling themselves “Bengali” implies they are illegally in the country, which most of them reject.
A UNHCR spokeswoman told Reuters it would be impossible for the agency to [help to resettle overseas those who fail to obtain citizenship], because they would not be “recognized refugees who have fled persecution and conflict across international borders”.
“This plan is profoundly troubling because it would strip the Rohingya of their rights, systematically lock them down in closed camps in what amounts to arbitrary, indefinite detention,” Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch