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The Rohingyas: A look into one of the world's most persecuted minorities
As the international community has been turning its head toward the humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya people, take a deeper look into who these people are and why they are so unwanted. - photo by Massarah Mikati
People lost at sea has been prominent in the news headlines in the past few days. Thousands of Rohingyas, a Muslim sect, have fled persecution in what they say is their homeland in hopes of finding justice elsewhere.

But that has proven difficult for the Rohingyas as Southeast Asian countries have been playing ping-pong with the refugees, reluctant to open their borders to the group for reasons they deem to be economic and legal.

But what is the backstory of these unwanted people?

Who are the people lost at sea?

The Rohingyas are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority, with an estimated 800,000 living in Myanmar. According to Religion News Service, most Rohingyas practice a blend of Sufi and Sunni Islam. Other locations of the remaining million Rohingyas include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. However, approximately 140,000 Rohingyas have fled their home in Myanmar within the past three years due to conflict and violence against them, according to the New York Times. The United Nations describes the Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

The argued history

One of the many conflicts between Myanmars government and the Rohingyas is the history of the Rohingyas. While the government claims that the Rohingyas are originally from Bangladesh, and migrated to Myanmar per the encouragement of the British government in 1823, evidence shows otherwise.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a European surgeon encountered Rohingyas when he traveled to what is currently the Rakhine state of Myanmar in 1799.

However, the government has stuck to its version of history in denying the Rohingyas citizenship in Myanmar. According to the 1982 citizenship law, full citizens are those who had permanently settled within the boundaries of modern-day Myanmar prior to 1823.

But Myanmar was not always unwelcoming of the Rohingyas. According to Pulitzer Center, the Rohingyas were recognized as an equal race included in Burma until 1962, when hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled the countrys mass violent crackdowns on the group, such as the military Operation Naga Min in 1978. The Rohingyas have been facing persecution ever since.

By claiming the Rohingyas are originally from Bangladesh, the Myanmar government has stripped the Rohingyas of their citizenship, which has made them ineligible for education, government service, humanitarian assistance, land ownership, marriage and the right to have more than two children.

According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, there are serious warning signs of a future genocide of the Rohingyas taking place in Myanmar. In a 2015 report, the organization found the Rohingyas are often victims of physical violence, segregation, hate speech, extortion, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention abuse.

Religious fears

According to Religion News Service, superstition and the politics of fear are factors in the persecution of Rohingyas.

Despite Myanmars majority Buddhist population (between 80 and 90 percent), a prophecy that claims the Buddhist faith will disappear within the millennia has cast a cloud of fear over the population.

They also point to the number 786, a common numerological abbreviation for the Arabic phrase Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful), as evidence of a plot for Muslim domination in the 21st century (7 + 8 + 6 = 21), RNS reported.

Many citizens of Myanmar also accuse the Rohingyas of stealing land and economic opportunities.

Why doesnt anyone else want them?

Since the Rohingyas have fled Myanmar by sea, Southeast Asian countries have been hesitant to help and take in the minority group. Countries where Rohingyas have sought refuge include Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

According to CNN, the main concern among the Southeast Asian countries is not ethnic or religious discrimination but a lack of resources to accommodate the group and the economic strain associated with refugees and immigrants. Worsening their chances of aid is a group of Bangladeshi economic migrants among the Rohingyas, who are seeking better lives elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Thailand provided humanitarian aid to a boat of Rohingyas May 14. They were sent back out to sea the next day for entering illegally, according to the New York Times.

On Wednesday, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to accept the estimated 7,000 migrants at sea, according to NPR. Malaysia ordered its Navy and Coast Guard to search for and rescue the Rohingyas at sea on Thursday.
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