Myanmar (Burma) Crisis
Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a southeast Asian country of many ethnic groups, which borders India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand. The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority who practice a variation of Sunni Islam, which differs from the predominant Buddhist groups of Myanmar. The Myanmar government has institutionalized discrimination on this group of people through restrictions on marriage, amount of children allowed, employment, education, and religious choice, amongst other things. Discriminatory violence which includes rape, arson, and murder have also compelled the Rohingya people to flee. Since the latest outbreak of violence in Rakhine State on August 25, 2017, over 1 million Rohingya people have been displaced. More than 914,000 Rohingya people currently reside in Bangladesh, with about 469,000 of those being children. Cox’s Bazar is now home to the world’s largest refugee camp. Currently, other factors that are furthering the crisis include the COVID-19 pandemic, and the main cyclone season in Bangladesh that will be beginning in the month of April. Unfortunately, it seems that there is currently no resolution in sight for this crisis. Until the conditions in Myanmar allow the Rohingya people to have access to basic human rights, repatriation is not possible.
Myanmar or Burma is a country located in Southeast Asia, where it is surrounded by other countries including India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand. Since the 1st millennium CE, the land that encompasses Burma today has served as a trade route between China and India, whose merchants utilized Burma’s coasts and river valleys as a gateway to mainland Southeast Asia. Tibeto-Burman speakers known as the Pyu created city-kingdoms in Myanmar between the 1st century BCE and the 9th century CE and ruled more than 18 kingdoms. By the mid-11th century, much of what is known today as Myanmar was united into one kingdom centered around the city of Pagan. After the rise and fall of many dynasties, British forces colonized Burma from 1885 to 1948 after taking over northern Myanmar’s capital, Mandalay, in the third Anglo-Burmese War. As a result of British colonization, Myanmar’s monarchy was eliminated and the British removed religious affairs from the government. After World War II ended, Burmese leaders attempted to rebel against British rule, which led to a peaceful transfer of power in 1947 in London and independence from Britain in 1948. It was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a new government returned to civilian rule. Myanmar has suffered economic hardship and military control since gaining independence. Increased control by armed forces has led to more corruption in the country, including widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya population in Myanmar.
In terms of access to education, Myanmar faces a stark drop-off when it comes to urban vs. rural areas, as the number of children in primary school are the same, but the number of people who pursue higher education is especially low. Because of the limited access to higher education, the cost of attending these institutions has increased to compensate for lower attendance, which serves as a financial barrier to poorer residents who want to pursue higher education.
Approximately 87% of the poor population reside in rural areas, in which access to basic healthcare services and comprehensive healthcare is severely limited. Most rural areas lack access to clean drinking water, established sanitation facilities, and face great barriers in accessing electricity from the public grid due to financial constraints as well as logistical issues. The main source of income for the large majority of the population — 64% of all household incomes — is agricultural activities in which they work for a wage as opposed to being self-employed. However, lack of access to proper technology yields low productivity as well as low yields, making returns on their work and the wages received severely limited. Similarly, those in rural areas and those with an overall lower level of well-being are less likely to have access to financial services and institutions to protect their wealth, leaving them extremely vulnerable to financial volatility.
Refugees are largely agricultural workers with no formal education, who face significant barriers when displaced in terms of access to proper healthcare, financial security and building wealth, as well as job security. Women who are displaced are much less likely to be employed or receive a proper compensation for their wage. This leads to less participation of women in the labor force of the region that they are displaced into.
Myanmar is located in the western portion of Southeast Asia. It is bordered by five different countries: with Bangladesh to the west, India to the northwest, China to the northeast, and Laos and Thailand to the east. Myanmar is also bordered by the Indian Ocean to the south and southeast, with 1200 miles of continuous coastline. The whole country spans the latitudes from 10 degrees above the equator to the Tropic of Cancer, making it subject to tropical climates as well as monsoon seasons. With heavy rain and humidity in the summer to fall, and light rain and dry air in the winter to spring, weather is predictable and agriculture is a dependable part of the economy. Around 48% of land is forest and around 19% is used for agriculture. As such, important economic sectors in Myanmar are the fishing, forestry, and agricultural areas. The Rakhine Mountains create a rain shadow, preventing precipitation from reaching central Myanmar, creating a dry and arid region. The Irrawaddy River runs through the center of Myanmar and is Myanmar’s principal commercial waterway. As a result, most of the population is concentrated in the southeast portion of Myanmar, along the coast and along the Irrawaddy River.
With a population of around 54 million people, 457,000 are internally displaced from their homes and an additional estimated 600,000 who are stateless as the Burmese government does not recognize the Rohingya people and other minority ethnic populations. As of December 2020, there are 866,457 refugees in Bangladesh, and 91,803 in Thailand.
Internally Displaced Minorities
Refugees in Thailand
Refugees in Bangladesh
*Estimated as of 2019 by the CIA
**As of December 2020 by the UNHCR
Bangladesh: Provided a refugee camp on the coast of Bangladesh in the city of Cox’s Bazar. However, the conditions at the settlement are questionable as overcrowding has caused fatal landslides, flooding, and occasional rampaging by elephants. With the overcrowding of refugees, Bangladesh claimed their new relocation to the island of Bhasan Char. However, current residents are struggling with the same problems they have endured from their original point.
UK, US, EU: Hosted virtual conference with the UN refugee agency to target $1 billion funding for 2020 EU: Humanitarian assistance for refugees and vulnerable subcommunities (€51.5 million).
Ex. child protection, gender based violence, healthcare, nutrition, food assistance. Development support to focus on education, health, food security, informational needs (€39 million). Conflict prevention (€5.5 million)
Indonesia: Focused on negotiation, diplomacy with the Myanmar government to pursue regional peace and therefore aid for victims in the Rakhine state.
Ex. “Formula 4+1 proposal consists of (i) restoring stability and security; (ii) maximum restraint and non-violence; (iii) protection of all people residing in Rakhine State, regardless of ethnicity or religion; and (iv) the importance of immediately opening access to humanitarian assistance”
January 2020: International Court of Justice has ordered Myanmar to protect Rohingyas and report back on their procedures to do so. This was brought up by the nation of Gambia and has reached the UN’s highest court to condemn Myanmar for violating the Genocide Convention.
February 2021: Biden has threatened sanctions on Myanmar and a call for more international response from allies and the US itself.
With the already vast majority of refugee camps already deteriorating in living conditions, COVID-19 has exacerbated this concern for the 900,000 Rohingyas living in camp tents. Although there are isolation efforts once a COVID case
is confirmed, there is still worry due to the population density; the campsite extends only for about 10 square miles. To make matters worse, the camp has also reported its first COVID-related death. Furthermore, because 10% of the
families have at least one family member with a disability or pre-health condition, their health is now even more susceptible to the virus that has permeated the world. Nonetheless, an international relief aid organization called
Concern Worldwide has been helping Rohingyas by assisting in efforts to stem the spread of the corona virus in the camps, providing frontline workers, hand-washing stations, and educating the community on the virus and safety measures.
Due to the military coup that happened on Feb 1st, protests have erupted in Myanmar. Hundreds of cities have peacefully protested against the military takeover despite military officials threatening citizens, using fear tactics and
even snipers supervising the crowds. Some of the protestors among these crowds have been young teenagers and young adults who may also be students from the local university. Although protest organizers advocated and organized for
peaceful protests, a protest in Mandalay resulted in the killing of two unarmed protestors by security forces, one who happened to be only 16 years old. In the country’s capital, Naypyidaw, a young woman has also died due to wounds
inflicted by security forces. Nevertheless, the protests and other forms of civil disobedience such as boycotts have made progress in “paralyzing” the banking system to stop the military from acquiring capital.
UNHCR continues working around the clock and support the government-led effort to respond to flooding. Together with partners, we are reinforcing existing shelters, prepositioning relief items, building and fortifying basic infrastructure, among other preparedness and response efforts.
Our mission is to alleviate hunger and help the environment throughout Lebanon by collecting wasted food of good quality and impartially distributing it to charities and people in need as a means to social progress.
The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted groups of people in the world. These vulnerable people have been forced to flee their homes, leaving behind the lives they once led, as they now must face a life on the road, struggling to find a safe place to stay. Our appeal was set up to allow essential aid to reach the Rohingya; donations really can make all the difference to those who have lost everything.
Muslim Global Relief has been helping the Rohingya emergency humanitarian relief effort by organising collection points across the UK and purchasing essential relief items that refugees need. Our teams are working around the clock on the ground at refugee camps along the Myanmar Bangladesh border. With your support we are providing emergency Food Packs, Building Shelters and offering life saving medical treatment to the wounded, sick & elderly. Please donate generously and help us save lives today.
Islamic Relief USA implements emergency relief projects that provide shelter, deliver emergency health services, and distribute core relief items to displaced people and refugees. Our work in ranges from dozens of programs that address healthcare to shelter to education to psychological care to temporary shelter, especially within the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp. We partner with UNHCR for several programs.
Further Reading/ Documentaries/Films
Narration about the increasing violence growing in Myanmar, partly, in the perspective of Rohingya refugees
Great article on the lack of action on international institutions/nations