Myanmar's Rohingya population has been suffering greatly since sectarian violence broke out in the state of Rakhine, also known as Arakan, in June. The riots began with the alleged rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine girl by men who were reportedly Muslim, triggering a backlash by Rakhine's Buddhist majority on the Rohingya, in the form of massacres and arson attacks on homes, mosques, and businesses.
Official reports from Myanmar's government have kept the death toll at about 80 since June, but estimates from rights groups say that hundreds, if not tens of thousands, have been killed, and the UNHCR estimates that 80,000 have been displaced, either internally or as refugees to Bangladesh and other countries.
Link TV's LinkAsia has covered the developments concerning the Rohingya since the unrest in June, but the plight of the Rohingyas has also garnered much attention in the Middle East, namely because the group suffering from persecution is historically Muslim. And although the violence in Rakhine State was targeted at Rohingyas, it was also directed towards Muslims in general.
Mosaic has focused on the Middle Eastern and Muslim angles of the conflict, such as Bangladesh's rejection of Rohingya refugees, protests by Iranian students in front of the UN office in Tehran, and the many demonstrations in Indonesia, where Muslim activists in Jakarta have called for Myanmar's suspension from ASEAN, the expulsion of the Myanmar ambassador from Jakarta, and more international action on the issue.
The Rohingyas have been considered foreigners in Myanmar for decades. In 1982, the government passed a law that effectively rendered them stateless. Myanmar considers the ethnic group of 800,000 to be British colonial-era illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, calling them "Bengali Muslims" in official releases. However, Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country itself, considers the Rohingyas to be Burmese, and has sent boatloads of refugees back to Myanmar, citing a dearth of resources. Bangladesh has also prevented humanitarian aid groups from continuing to work with the Rohingyas, fearing that the provisions would draw more refugees to the already-impoverished country.
Two of ASEAN's largest Muslim-majority countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, have offered to directly assist the Rohingyas. Indonesia, which boasts the largest Muslim population in the world, has also vowed to raise the topic of the Rohingya at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's next summit in Mecca next week. Saudi Arabia, which hosts the OIC and reportedly has a Rohingya population of hundreds of thousands, recently condemned Myanmar for what it called the Rohingyas' "ethnic cleansing," and the OIC's Turkish chief, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has followed suit.
Unfortunately, countries and organizations willing to help are finding the refugees difficult to reach. Myanmar and Bangladesh have both restricted aid to their Rohingya populations, leaving the displaced people to fend for themselves. Some Burmese groups have skirted the issue by collecting money for the Rakhine "fire victims," without mentioning the sectarian violence that led to the fires. However, with a severe dearth of food and medical services, Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons are currently struggling to survive. This scene is sadly all too similar to the persecution they have suffered for years, with a similar lack of international empathy.
Image: Amena Akter, a Rohingya from Myanmar cries as she holds her six-day old son, Sangram in the office of the Bangladesh Coast Guard in Teknaf June 19, 2012: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj