Rohingya Plight Highlighted in London


A picture from the book, “Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya” (PHOTO: Greg Constantine)

The London School of Economics (LSE) hosted a panel discussion on Monday evening to debate the crisis in western Arakan State and to express support for the Rohingya community.

Many members of the Burmese community crowded into the packed theater alongside London-based activists and members of NGOs. On the panel were Chris Lewa, the director of the Arakan Project and a leading voice on behalf of the Rohingya, and US photographer Greg Constantine who recently released a book of black and white photography titled “Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya.”

Constantine has specialized in documenting the plight of stateless people around the world, and since 2006 has made eight trips to Bangladesh to document the conditions in which the Rohingya communities live.

“One of the things that is lost in the discussions of the issues of statelessness—particularly with the Rohingya—are human stories,” he said.

He recounted to the audience the story of 20-year-old Kashida who had to flee to Bangladesh with her husband. The Burmese authorities had denied her permission to get married, but when they discovered she had married in secret and was pregnant they took away all her family’s money and cows and goats. They forced Kashida to have an abortion, telling her: “This is not your country; you don’t have the right to reproduce here.”

Constantine said that some Rohingya families had lived in Burma for centuries, but were “denied by successive governments the right to belong to the country of their birth.”

He explained to the audience how the Rohingya people—whom many Burmese consider to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh—are denied the rights to get married, to travel freely and to practice their religion. They are also subjected, he said, to arbitrary land seizure for military use or to make model Burmese villages for Buddhist communities.

Since the 1982 Citizenship Act, the Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Burma, but are also denied the opportunity to seek entry into any other country.

“They are denied the right to an identity, the right to belong, the right to have their language, heritage and culture respected and included in the larger fabric of society,” said the American photojournalist.

He urged NGOs and governmental organisations such as Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and USAID not to forget the Rohingya as Burma opens up and development pours in.

Chris Lewa then addressed the issue of violence in Arakan State.

“What started as communal violence between Rakhine [Arakanese] and Rohingya has now turned into state-sponsored violence targeting the Rohingya,” she said.

This was illustrated by President Thein Sein’s statement last week to the UNHCR rejecting the Rohingya as a minority group in Burma and suggesting that they be relocated to camps run by the UNHCR and sent away to third countries, she told the audience.

“Official policies of discrimination and denial of citizenship to the Rohingya create an environment in which ethnic clashes are virtually inevitable,” she said.

Lewa pointed at instances of anti-Rohingya campaigns in Burma that stoked the violence which erupted following the rape and murder of an Arakanese Buddhist woman on May 28, allegedly by three Muslim men.

Lewa then laid out a chronology of events throughout June, including the murder of 10 Muslim pilgrims, riots in Maungdaw, and the burning of Arakanese Buddhist shops and homes by mobs of Rohingya men followed by reciprocal acts by Arakanese on Rohingya communities.

Many of the incidents in northwestern Arakan State are disputed by one or other side during the seven weeks of sectarian violence. Many Arakanese sources claim, in fact, that it is primarily Rohingya gangs who are responsible for the violence.

Lewa said state-sponsored abuse of the Rohingya started on June 25, and she accused the army, the nasaka (border security forces), police officers and riot police of conducting mass arrests of Rohingyas, and raids that involved looting, robbery, rapes, beatings, torture and killings.

Lewa also criticized the Burmese government’s figures, which said only 80 people have died and 55,000 have been internally displaced. She said that in reality hundreds have died, many more have been injured, thousands of properties have been destroyed and an estimated 100,000 people have been displaced.

There have been many attempts to block aid from UN agencies and international NGOs, said Lewa, even by Buddhist monks who are playing a leading role in rejecting aid and exhorting their communities not to do business with the Rohingya.

Despite the claims by the UN, she said the Arakan Project has no evidence of any Rohingya in Maungdaw receiving any assistance, and said they are receiving increasing reports of children dying of malnutrition.

She said that the Burmese leadership, from Thein Sein to the NLD, must work to find solutions.

Finally, she said, the 1982 Citizenship Law has to be repealed and “nationality in Burma should not be based on race, but rather on descent and birthplace.”

Meanwhile, a representative of DFID said the situation in Arakan State “is very concerning.

“The British ambassador has repeatedly raised concerns with ministers and directly with the president about the humanitarian and political situation in Arakan and called on all sides to allow unrestricted humanitarian and political situation in Arakan and called on all sides to allow unrestricted humanitarian access for international and local aid agencies to the affected communities,” he said.

He said DFID is providing aid to Arakan State through the UNHCR, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

44 Responses to Rohingya Plight Highlighted in London

  1. There it is, I ask myself, re we really independent since 1948? I agree that there should be human rights and rights of every human should be respected. But, in nature of Humanbeing, humanbeing are predator. Human will prey upon each other religion, culture, boundries, wealth and so on. I am wondering, why not Chris Lewa did not say a word about “Arakanese” suffering in the history. Does she even know the history of V-Force and massicre of more than 20,000 Arakenese people in World War 2 era? The land that the people she love belong to Arakanese people before British invaded to Burma and yet Burma still have to obey former colonial master? Why not she find a solution rather than complaining, better yet take all of those people to her own country. There are many people who have to leave their birth place to another countries by many reasons, why is that Rohingya case be any different? Thein Sein is kind enough to let them go any country which want to accept them. They can have any rights they want. May be Chris Lewa house is big enough for a Rohingya family too. UK common wealth countries around the world is many times bigger than Burma and much wealthier than Burma, why not poor people without rights will have a chance to have better oppotunities in those common wealth countries, but Chris Lewa should prepare for million people waiting right next door of Burma. You guys are very funny. Ther were many Burmese children born in refugees camps outside of Burma and those children never recieved citizenship at the place that they born into, yet we never say that those children are not our citizen, they are family and they are our children, we welcome them back to Burma any time, but the one who are not us never will be one of us.

    •  Tom Tun,

      How does what Chris Lewa know or know not about what happened WWII affect what he knows for sure now? You said, “There are many people who have to leave their birth place to another
      countries by many reasons, why is that Rohingya case be any different?”  I will answer you. “It’s because you Bamar cannot get away with it that easily. Got it?” 
      Thein Sein is kind enough?  hahahahahaha..hahahahahaha hahahahahahaha. How old are you? 5?

  2. Applaud Irrawaddy for the courage you have to stand on right path and working according media ethics at this critical time. Wish all the success!!!!


      I do applaud Irrawaddy to post these news pieces.  but then, they are funded by democracry [promoters and so they have to post these news articles.

  3. All of us now understand that Arakan Violence is state sponsor, as such state has the responsible to solve this problem. If Muslims of Arakan are not citizen including Rohingya ( not Burmese National ) how come many of the Burmese Muslims and non – Burmse Muslims including General New Win, U Razak ( assassinated along with General Aung San ), U Than former Secretary General of UN and those are the descendant of those were born in the year 1855 will become national of Burma?

    Now in the Burma parliament proposed vice presidential candidate U Myint Swe is facing constitutional problem which is one of his son is now Australian citizen, so he can entitle to become Vice President. This is another racist problem blocking peoples from political arena, so present constitution shall have to re write. How funny our peoples are, they want to block every body taking part in country affairs and also blocking citizenship so as to make greater Burma under Burman Buddhist state and present Arakanese are copying same style of ruling and narrow mentality which is against the universal declaration of Human Rights also standard international law.

  4. Burma is going to fragmentation very soon.Generals & NLD both are responsible for this situation.

    • Burmese peoples are united on illegal migrant Bengali Rohingya issue.
      Every Burmese citizen have duty to protect peoples illegally entering from other country.
      Thailand and Malaysia Government prosecute illegal migrant in their country too. Why Burmese Government can’t deport illegal Bengali peoples to their country?

  5. What? Arakan Project? This term itself is extremely frightening. Who told you, Chris Lewa, to form this Arakan Project? By Muslim people? I know your project is just for these illegal “Rohigya” people and to help them found a caliphate estate in westernmost part of my nativeland Arakan. Now we all people of Burma have increasingly becme enlightened about the ulterior motives behind your project and these illegals’ open secret. Thanks to these recent unrest and arson attacks staged by ungrateful illegal immigrants in Arakan.

    •  Akyab Arakanese,You are attacking Chris Lewa?  My my, what a brainless thing to do!  Chris Lewa is Christ Lewa because of his resume on human rights, get it?

  6. To Chris Lewa,

    Our country would not have any conflicts in Rakhine if there were no Rohingya.
    Every country all over the world prevents illegal immigrants to enter their land and to give them citizenship.
    You should find out where these Rohingya come from instead of critising our nation’s immigration laws.
    Myanmar is an independent nation to practise its own immigration laws to protect its people just like other nations.

    Our President is right.
    If we accept eveybody who illegally enters into our cuntry and let their population grow unlimitedly , there would be no space of land left for its own citizens even to stand on their feet in a short time.

    So, Madam Lewa, please ask the government of your original country to accept them as your citizens.

    •  Violet,  Are you that obtuse to say ‘Our country would not have any conflicts in Rakhine if there were no Rohingya.”?  You said ‘Every country all over the world prevents illegal immigrants to enter their land and to give them citizenship.” but you should be told that pother country do not require the illegals to get license to get married.

      Do you know that you are only damaging your Bamar people’s reputation (what little there is to begin with with the venom they wrote on face book about Rohingya people) on the world stage?

  7. So also I do not understand why the world only keep eyes on Myanmar for Rohingya.
    Whey not Bangladesh? Those people come from there.
    The world should find the root of the poblem that where these Rohingya originally come from and the reason.

    •  Violet,

      Because the world know history of the Rohingyas more than you do. Because the world knows that the Rohingyas did not come for Banglasdesh.  They know that while Rohingyas  do have ancestral connection to Bengal (for Arakan used to be a part of Bengal in ancient time) but their Rohingya identity was formed inside Arakan.

  8. He recounted to the audience the story of 20-year-old Kashida who had to flee to Bangladesh with her husband. The Burmese authorities had denied her permission to get married, but when they discovered she had married in secret and was pregnant they took away all her family’s money and cows and goats. They forced Kashida to have an abortion, telling her: “This is not your country; you don’t have the right to reproduce here.”
    Do they believe that story is true?
    Yes, they believe that kind of lie.
    That’s why Burmese peoples think Bengali Rohingya peoples are dishonest.

  9. Stop being biase and taking side, please!!!! Have these Western media journalists ever written from the point of view of native Rakhine people?????? They have been put up with these Banglis for too long which is never recognized by any Western media !!!!! These journalists are breaching the codes of journalism.

  10. If the British are highly concerned with the Rohingya in Burma, they should accept and take good care of all Rohingyas in their country, UK. The British brought in Indians to Burma during their colonial period, and now they’re giving pressure on our country to accept more muslims again. The Burmese must decide the future of Burma, not outsiders!

  11. brave article – well done!
    Thanks for giving insights also on the rohingya perspective!
    I really hope the burmese will end to just deny the problem but face it and find constructive ways to de-escalate.

  12. What do they expect? The Kachin refugees have been treated by China like animals. The Rohingyas get treated by Bangladesh and Myanmar the same way the Kachins get treated by China. China, Myanmar and Bangladesh are different from the US. Please send the Rohingyas to Indonesia or Saudi Arabia where they will be fit to stay forever. Arakan is not the place where they can stay for long. Sheep and Lion cannot be kept in one den.

    •  Muaclin,

      You must be   a retard to think religion makes people identity to be homogeneous. Who are you to say “send the Rohingya to Saudi Arabia or Indonesia”.   FYI, there are lots of Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia, earning good living.  people like you forced them to be there.  At the same time, people like you are jealous that they are making money there.

  13. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi once correctly remarked that the Burmese in general have jealousy towards one another and she doesn’t like it. That JEALOUSY will make Myanmar fail again. Actually, basic psychology can explain why the Rakhines are against everything done in favour of the Rohingya. The international community has been supporting the Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State for many years but Rakhines have got little from it. But it is understandable because the Rohingya live in extremely difficult lives. Rakhines have comparatively better lives as full citizens of Myanmar. But poverty has made many Rakhines feel JEALOUS of the Rohingya who get international funding, however meager it is. On the other hand, so-called Burmese democracy fighters like 88 generation students have also become JEALOUS of international organizations and NGOs who they think are making profits out of the Rohingya issue. It seems 88 Generation Students think they are the best democracy and human rights champions so they deserve everything. What a shame! Now, just few days ago we witnessed how the MP Daw Nan Wah Nu from the White Tiger party took advantage of sanctions for her own political favor by forming a coalition with the USDP and RNDP. Hluttaw politics in Myanmar has become a DIRTY GAME. Once all the restrictions against political participation were lifted many months ago, we have seen so many accidental and immediate politicians on the stage. It is evidence of how the peoples in Myanmar love POWER. And when Rakhine State was facing communal conflicts, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi again was denigrated by many people. Actually, the RNDP itself is to be largely blamed for inciting racial hatred among the Rakhine and other Buddhist communities in Myanmar. But nobody blamed RNDP for that and most people (including NLD) in Myanmar believed everything RNDP said. Now RNDP has given the NLD a good lesson that RNDP is also jealous of NLD. Now, NLD should take a lesson from it and assume a strong, coherent stance on policy for many matters as soon as possible. We can foresee an extremely competitive election in 2015 among so many groups with so many self-interests and so many agendas, which is not good for a young democracy like Myanmar. We should be worried.

    •  Good point Myo Chit.  I hope that people, Buddhist  civilians, wake up and understand they are wrong to assume that they would get democracy while watching quietly how Rohingya community are marginalized.

  14. Kashida’s story is difficult to believe. There are many muslims in Burma, legally or illegally living there. I am not saying she made it up. But it is difficult to believe what she said.

  15. Suu_Kyi must address the ramifications of the 1982 Citizenship Law. It was arbitarily introduced by the Dictator, Ne Win and disenfranchised thousands of legal citizens of Burma. People who were born in Burma have no less rights than the thousands of Burmese who currently enjoy rights in America, Europe and Thailand.
    We have to go back to the constitution we had before Ne Win usurped power……….Dan Nai Doo

  16. I wouldn’t take these publicity-seeking “panel discussions” at a place like the London School of Economics too seriously. LSE has its own scandals. Didn’t LSE accept money from Muammar Ghadaffi for his son’s degree there?
    I have a lot of sympathy for the poor Rohingyas and I believe that there is still discrimination based on race and skin colour in Burma, but I am also a bit tired of listening to all these “do-gooders” with their “NGO-speak” full of buzz words (which they need for funding).
    The key issue in Burma is the question of citizenship and this has to be resolved not just for the Rohingyas but for every other “illegal immigrant” in Burma, of which the majority are Chinese. How about UNHCR refugee camps in Lashio? “Rule of law” means no discrimination by race or religion, no?

  17. “are denied the rights to get married, to travel freely and to practice their religion. ”
    Chris Lewa, they are not allowed to marry more than one wife, go around with four wives and reproduce four fold annually.
    Did you verify if the 20-year-old Kashida is the first wife or rather the 2nd, 3rd or fourth number?

    •  Sidney,

      Does it matter whether Khashida is 1st or 2nd or 3rd wife? How does that have to do with her human rights? By the way, don’t forget that in Islam at least a man doesn’t take his sister-in-law as a second wife like in Burmese Buddhist household.

  18. Rohingya,the most persecuted minority in the world,are facing discrimination,summary trail,rape,deprivation of rights to own their ancestors land,giving birth to baby and totally ethnic cleansing.

  19. Prove it with evidence, and show media ethic of your words “They forced Kashida to have an abortion, telling her: “they took away all her family’s money and cows and goats. This is not your country; you don’t have the right to reproduce here.” Show hard evidence and take legal action to those who ordered her to do so.

    Forced to abortion is not for Buddhist country, only One China Policy or somewhere else. Not our country.

  20. I just want to ask that everybody discussion about Rohingya Case in Myanmar , what would you do in your country , if happen like in Myanmar .Anyhow you all have to depend on your country citizen law , right ?
    So do we , Myanmar people also have our own citizen law , if you are not satisfied about this matter , please come to Myanmar , we will talk about it on table , don’t talk too much . We have to protect our country and our people , even our religion , this is our duty of citizen every race in Myanmar, except Rohingya Balgali Migrant.

    • What about the numerous Chinese ilegal immigrants in places like Mandalay and Lashio? Are the “Myanmar people” going to apply the same strict 1982 citizenship laws to them? Chinese are also not “ethnic Myanmar”.

    • Joe,  Rohingya Balgali Migrant?  You have no clue that the land they lived on was not a part of your forefather’s land but their forefather’s land for thousand of years? Yes, Arakan used to be a part of the region known as Bengal not just during the time of Maurya Empire but before it, i.e. the time of Magadha empire.

  21. Rohingas are not bangladeshi in origin.They & their forefathers are living in Arakan for generation after generations for several hundred years.So why to colour them as Bangladeshi origin.Burmese ultranationalism can not prevent balkanisation of Burma in future.Already Kachin and Shan states are going to separate from Burma.Chin,Arakan & Mon states are followind their path only.Only a fedaration & good justified behaviour to minorities can prevent fragmantation of Burma.

    •  Yes Hasan,

      This bullying  mentality of Burmese people with Bamar culture will not get Burma very far.  No ethnic minority group trust the bamar.  To get the trust from those groups. people with bamar culture really need to step up and acknowledge the plights of the Rohingyas.

  22. UNHCR and International Human right organization must research about so called Rohingya history before they blaming Rakhain Buddhist peoples and Burmese Government.
    Bengali is Rohingya. Rohingya is illegal migrant from Bangladesh.
    If UNHCR and International Human Right Organization research base on British Colony Government records and then they will found out about modern Bengali Rohingya history and who they are.
    Burmese peoples are not agreed with what Government is doing but 99% of Burmese peoples are supporting President U Thein Sein standing firm on illegal migrant Bengali Rohingya issue.
    Also I must suggest to President U Thein Sein and his Government to collect all available Bengali Rohingya record from past and present of Bengali Rohingya history and explain to UNHCR and world media.
    Muslim peoples are not persecuted in Burma. These illegal Bengali were fleeing back to their home country because they do not have Nation Identity Card or Foreigner Residency Card when authorities check their identity. The Bengali Rohingya the peoples who have some kind of Identity are still living in Arakan State and other parts of Burma.
    Believing one side story is unwise. Legal resident Bengali peoples have more religion freedom than peoples whom live in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Islamic Countries.

    •  Chop Chop, Bengali Rohingya is still not the Bengali of Bangladesh or West Bengal.  Bengali Rohingya has their won identity. A people’s culture cannot be defined by modern boundry of nations.   A people’s culture is tied to the history of to the land they have been living.


  24. The Muslim Rohingya were once part of the larger Mrauk-U kingdom in Arakan which was squeezed between the Buddhist kingdoms of Burma to the east and the Muslim Moguls to the West. While Buddhist kings ruled Mrauk-U, Muslims played a significant role at court.

    In 1784, Burman King Bodawpaya conquered and incorporated the Arakan region, setting off an exodus of Muslim refugees, including Rohingyas, to southern Chittagong in modern-day Bangladesh, where many settled. Under the British, who administered Burma as part of India until the Japanese invasion in 1942, the border was open, and migration in both directions frequent.Rohingya are not illegal immigrant they are king maker in Arakan.

  25. They are forgotten people on arakanese and bangalease border.

    They were treated like animals by armforces.

    Now they need to do as human. They are not animal and we are not animal.

    Our problems should be solved ourselves on right way to be human.

    No worry for war but for human rights.

    All have rights to be human.

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