An Overview of the Rohingya Refugee Crisis


Dallas Mercurio '20, Magazine Editor

Currently, in the beautiful country of Myanmar, previously known as Burma, the government is committing obscene acts of horror to the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in the country. Thousands of Rohingya are fleeing their homes for the refugee camps in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh. To gain more insight about this refugee crisis, I interviewed Ms. McNulty on her thoughts on the Rohingya people and the Myanmar government’s actions towards them.

In your own words, what is happening and has been happening in Myanmar to the Rohingya people?

There’s really no way to honestly deny that what’s going on is ethnic cleansing. The Myanmar government claims that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants, but the Rohingya have been there for thousands of years. This has been going on for more than just this recent episode. It has been going on intensely since 1982, when they passed new citizen laws to make the Rohingya foreigners, so they never had citizenship status in the first place. Also, there is no denying that the fact that they are Muslim factors into the attitude that they are foreign in a predominantly Buddhist nation. This really shatters the image Westerners sometimes have of the peaceful Buddhist. Many Buddhists are, and the philosophy is peaceful, just as the philosophy behind Christianity is peaceful, but this is sometimes what you get.

What are some factors that might have triggered this last current crisis with the Rohingya?

What triggered this last current crisis is that a group of Rohingya started to push back. They are called the ARSA, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. These people are Rohingya who are pushing back against the government. There was a recent incident, on August 25, in which this group attacked police and killed twelve of them. So the Myanmar government says that they are justified and this current situation is their attempt to rid Myanmar of this “terrorist” group.

Do you think that what is happening qualifies as ethnic cleansing or genocide?

The UN is referring to it as ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is what is happening.The Rohingya are being killed or pushed out of the country. I would stay away from the word genocide when describing this crisis, because genocide would be if they were hunting them down and killing them all.

What was your opinion of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning leader of Myanmar?

I had a very favorable opinion of her. I thought she was very heroic in the years of her house arrest when she consistently called for peace.

Compared to the military coup led by U Ne Win, how similar is Myanmar’s current control by the military? Would you call it a democracy? Or does the military seem to have more power than the people?

The government is still principally military, although some progress has been made towards making it more civilian based and democratic, but this is where we can see that not a lot of progress has been made, it’s window dressing. The military is still the de facto government, and is still in charge.

Do you think that Aung San Suu Kyi has enough power to influence the military to stop, or do you think it’s out of her control to do anything like that?

I think it is, in practical terms, out of her control. But her role had always been as a moral voice. And that’s what she could still contribute.

Has that opinion changed due to recent events?

It has changed profoundly. While there may be some small room for misunderstanding—and I do say small—her refusal to acknowledge that violence is going on is appalling.

Would you say that her critics would be right about taking away her Nobel Peace Prize?

I think that that’s almost an irrelevant distraction. The Nobel committee has awarded the prize to some questionable people through the years. Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s secretary of state who was accused of arranging the secret bombings in Vietnam, for instance, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I can understand the impulse of wanting to do that, but I think it’s a distraction from the larger issue of the Rohingya. Because, if you take away the Peace Prize, will you be satisfied that you have done enough? I think putting too much energy into that would distract from the real problem; the international community needs to help the Rohingya.

Could you draw a connection between the intolerance towards the Rohingya people, who, according to the government of Myanmar, are illegal immigrants, although they have lived in that area for thousands of years, and the intolerance undocumented immigrants face in the US?

I think that everywhere on the planet, the dominant groups oppress those with less power. That’s the deal whether we are talking about Syrian immigrants in Germany, undocumented people in the United States, or the Rohingya in Myanmar.

What are your thoughts about the government’s ban on outside journalists trying to report the crisis?

Clearly, despite the denials, the Myanmar government knows full well what they are doing, and the evidence for this is that they are banning foreign journalists and that Aung San Suu Kyi did not appear at the UN, because they would have grilled her about the Rohingya crisis.

Do you think that the truth would have come out slower without the pictures from the Human Rights Watch satellite?

Nowadays, with so much social media and people with cellphones and so forth, I don’t think they were going to hide it for too long because the overhanging question is, where are all of these people coming from and why are they leaving their country in hundreds of thousands? The world would have found out sooner or later.

Using two words how would you describe the historical and modern day relationship of the Myanmar (previously Burma) and Rohingya people?

Brutally oppressed.

Do you think that Doctors Without Borders coming into the mix is going to help or not be enough?

It’s not going to be enough. Doctors Without Borders always helps, but they have not only financial and manpower limitations but some countries are actually restricting the comings and goings of Doctors Without Borders. Its unbelievable.

Based on what you know about the current state in Myanmar, what do you think the future holds for the Rohingya?

I think the future is extremely uncertain. Myanmar is putting itself in a position to be severely criticized by other countries, which is never a good position to be in. It could reach the point where countries would start to consider sanctions against them, but they are making themselves politically a pariah.

The Rohingya refugee situation is equally uncertain. It is going to depend on the world community. It is a humanitarian crisis. The world community—with the UN, the individual nations, and other Asian countries—needs to step up. The question is going to be if the Rohingya are permitted to return to what lives they will have, and, if they stay, what they are going to face in refugee camps such as those in Bangladesh, with no land of their own to farm and no employment opportunities.


Here are some links to articles if you would like to know more about the Rohingya and Myanmar conflict, although I must warn that these articles do not shy away from the horrible acts of violence occurring to the Rohingya people. Viewer discretion is advised.