by Rushanara Ali
"Since Myanmar passed the citizenship law in 1982, full citizenship in Myanmar is based, according to Burma Campaign UK, on being a member of the “national races” – a category awarded only to those who are “considered to have settled in Myanmar prior to 1824, the date of the first occupation by the British”. In Myanmar’s national census of 2014, the Muslim minority group was initially allowed to self-identify as “Rohingya”, but the government later reversed this freedom and deemed that they could only be identified as “Bengali”.
This has left the Rohingya open to discrimination and mistreatment. Denied the right to education and equal employment, and given only limited access to healthcare, they have endured intolerable conditions. In Myanmar in 2013, I walked around hospital wards that segregated the sick by their religion.
Many Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar by boat from the Bay of Bengal in the hope of reaching Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. As their situation has continued to deteriorate over the last year, thousands have attempted to cross a stretch of water that is three times more deadly for refugees than the Mediterranean. According to the UN, they are often “stranded at sea on overcrowded boats, controlled by traffickers and people smugglers”, with many “beaten and held hostage for ransom”."