Since October 2016, almost half a million of Muslim Rohingya people have fled Myanmar, mainly crossing by land into Bangladesh, and those who can manage, turn to the sea to flee towards Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. This recent surge in refugees results from a long-building crisis caused by the discriminatory policies of the Myanmar government in Rakhine state for decades. The plight of the Rohingya is further exacerbated by the reluctant responses of Myanmar’s neighbors to act and their inability and unwillingness to handle the influx of asylum seekers.
Following the attack on police and military checkpoints that left 9 people dead in October 2016, a vast military security operation has been ongoing in northern Rakhine State targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority. Those security operations amount in most cases to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, where rape, abduction, summary killings, torture and unlawful imprisonment are common.
This current wave of extreme violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority is not the first one. Successive violent crackdowns have taken place in 1978, 1991, 2008 and in 2012 with systematic mass exodus towards Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (during the seventies and eighties), Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia as a result. It is the first large scale crackdown under a democratically elected government in Myanmar though.
Meanwhile, security restrictions against the Rohingya minority in the rest of Rakhine State and the internment camps around Sittwe have been even further intensified as well as repression. Access for humanitarian aid and independent media has been all but impossible in northern Rakhine and severely restricted in the camps, in the build up to the military operations and their aftermath. What is described as camps for internal displaced persons around the city of Sitttwe is nothing short of open-air concentration camps where Rohingya live without possibility of leaving the camps or having access to proper basic healthcare, education, food and work.