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Myanmar's Rohingya: A history of forced exoduses

September 9, 2017

Around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, escaping violence and persecution in their native Myanmar. It's not the first time they have been forced from their homes.

Rohingya Flüchtlinge Myanmar Bangladesch
Image: Reuters/M.P.Hossain

Historical movements

1940s – 22,000 Rohingya are believed to have spilled into Bangladesh, then British-controlled Bengal, after Japanese forces invaded Burma in 1942 during the Second World War.

Thousands more crossed over following Burma's independence in 1948 when tensions grew between the Burmese government and Rohingya.

Read more: The Rohingya people in Myanmar: What you need to know

1970s – 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after Burmese authorities launched a drive to register citizens and screen out foreigners. The refugees said they were forcefully evicted by an army that indulged in widespread brutality.

1991-92 – Hundreds of thousands flee to avoid repression

Bangladesh has been hosting Rohingya Muslims for decades, with the earliest recorded arrivals in 1948, according to the UN. But the biggest influx in recent decades took place in 1991-92, when more than 250,000 Rohingya arrived in the country to avoid repression in Myanmar. The army was accused of rapes, forced labor and religious persecution.

Infografik Geflüchtete Rohingya Muslime ENG

2012-2015 – Waves of deadly violence hit Muslims

Widespread rioting and clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, the majority of them Rohingya, erupted in Rakhine province in June 2012 after the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman.

Following the sectarian violence, government authorities destroyed mosques, conducted violent mass arrests and blocked aid to displaced Muslims, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published in 2013, which accused the Myanmar government of engaging in a "campaign of ethnic cleansing."

Polizei in Birma Myanmar
Human rights groups accused Myanmar authorities of "ethnic cleansing"Image: Reuters

Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim communities, razed villages and killed hundreds of people. HRW said the security forces "stood aside or assisted the assailants."

The attacks were followed by several incidents that sparked off violence against Rohingya over the next three years.

Read more: United Nations has plan to help 300,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar

According to UN data, about 125,000 fled Myanmar between 2012 -2015, most of them making the perilous sea journey to Malaysia. Hundreds perished en route, mainly due to smuggler abuse and deprivation.

2016 – Violence erupts after deadly assault on border guard posts

In October 2016, large coordinated attacks hit three police posts along the border with Bangladesh. Nine policemen were killed in the attacks carried out by at least 250 Rohingya assailants, according to the Myanmar government.

Children recycle goods from the ruins of a market which was set on fire at a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state
Over 100,000 Rohingya were displaced after their villages were set on fireImage: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

The incident brought the tense relations between Rohingya and the security forces to the fore. It triggered a wave of violence across Rakhine state, the home to the majority of the Rohingya people. A major security operation was launched by the Buddhist-majority government. Women were raped by soldiers, men in detention were tortured, hundreds of unarmed Rohingya men were killed and more than 100,000 were displaced after their villages were set on fire.

More than 74,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh over the next few months, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Most of the refugees, interviewed by UNHCR, said their homes had been looted, burned or demolished.

My picture of the week | The stateless Rohingyas

Portrait photo of Ashutosh Pandey wearing a blue collared shirt and a navy-blue blazer
Ashutosh Pandey Business editor with a focus on international trade, financial markets and the energy sector.@ashutoshpande85