Skip to main content

Persecuted and stateless

July 17, 2017 | Expert Insights

The future of 276,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remains uncertain.

The refugees, who fled Myammar, have no permanent homes, little access to education and thousands of the children are running the risk of starvation. And there is no guarantee from the Bangladeshi government that they won’t be sent back.

This is just another chapter in the life of one of the most persecuted communities in the world.


The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. Their origin can be traced back to the 15th century, when thousands settled in Myanmar from Arakan Kingdom. Practicing a variation of Sunni Islam, there are reportedly one million Rohingya in Myanmar. The government of Myanmar has however, refused to recognize them as one of its ethnic groups. They do not get legal protection from the government. The processes for them to get a citizenship is also incredibly hard and often impossible.

The government considers them illegal refugees from Bangladesh and they aren’t allowed to vote. But the Bangladeshi government considers them Burmese, effectively rendering them stateless. Given their persecution, thousands have fled the region in boats. Due to violent riots, since 2012, over 110,000 Rohingya left Myanmar and headed to countries like Thailand and Malaysia. The number of refugees increased exponentially in 2015. Thein Sein, the Burmese President from 2011 to 2016 did little to offer relief to Rohingya.

A UN report has said that the treatment of Rohingya was tantamount to ethnic cleansing. Researchers from the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), published a report citing compelling evidence of mass annihilation and genocide. Personal accounts by refugees paint horrific tale of rape, pillaging and violence.  


The current government led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has done little to address this oppression. In June 2017, she refused to issue visas to the UN team investigating this abuse. She also has reportedly ignored the complaints of widespread abuse caused by the military.

In Bangladesh, the conditions of these refugees are no better. Only 12% will have access to education and many of the children will become child laborers. The Bangladeshi government has also expressed doubt on whether it can allow the refugees to stay. The country is not party to the UN convention on refugees and has not registered any new refugees since 1992. The country has stated that it simply has no space for the Rohingya.


Our assessment is that if the international community does not come together to resolve this crisis, then hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should also take a proactive approach to find humane solutions.