The Rohingya Crisis: Long Forgotten yet Far From Solved

In August 2017, great distress and disorder erupted as a factor of violence outburst in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. It was caused by Rohingya militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacking police posts and killing 12 members of their security force. This event, specifically triggered the Myanmar government to increase its political persecution by conducting organised killings, rapes and collective massacres [2]. In addition to these horrible acts, the government is also currently directing military operations to burn down villages [3]. The hatred and marginalisation towards the Rohingya population was not developed overnight but it was a factor of years of oppression, mistreatment and unease. As a matter of fact, the Rohingya Muslims are not recognised as part of the list of ethnic groups in Myanmar and have been denied citizenship. According to Amnesty International, they are considered amongst “the world’s least wanted groups” [4] whereas according to the United Nations, the crisis appears to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” [5].

As a result of this, Rohingya migration has been damaging its neighbouring countries in different ways, especially Bangladesh. Politically, the Bangladeshi government has been internationally pressured into accepting the refugees. With the backing of India and China,  however, Myanmar has tried to reach an agreement with Bangladesh by trying to  repatriate the Rohingya to the Burmese’s capital [6]. The Rohingya, however, are quite sceptical towards returning. In the region, security is deteriorating. And with this agreement, there’s a high probability that more outstanding levels of brutality will take place. Although Bangladesh is trying its hardest to find a suitable solution, the risk is that its efforts to contain and isolate the population from the mainstream community risks creating an alienated and aggravated Rohingya population [7]. For instance, the ARSA militant group insists in continuing its insurgent campaigns against Burmese terrorism. The Bangladeshi government finds itself increasingly concerned about the ARSA, afraid that the group would try and recruit ‘disciples’ in refugee camps. This is why there has been a drawback from Bangladesh’s part in accepting refugees.

Other than security and power politics, migration still has a tremendous strain on Bangladesh’s economy. The coastal beaches and the surrounding towns which were once replete with tourists are now home to thousands of refugees and foreign aid workers. Even though many Bangladeshi actually benefited economically from migration by obtaining a job in humanitarian organisations, others claim that refugees are lowering minimum wages. Rohingyas, in fact, due to their situation, are willing to get paid far less than Bangladeshi, appearing to have problematic consequences on their inhabitants [8].

Most shocking and unexpected of all however, is the environmental destruction produced by the influx of refugees in the Cox Bazar region. Even though Rohingya’s are not climate migrants, their camps and surrounding environments have been denominated as one of the most vulnerable of the country [9]. The UN Development Program released an environmental assessment of the situation and managed to detect “28 risks threatening biodiversity and human security” [10]. Eleven environmental impacts were identified that might have been caused or often accelerated by migration. Some of the most impactful including air quality, solid waste management and surface water. Ecosystems were equally as affected with deforestation and forest degradation at its roots. And while the UN provided recommendations to overcome these problems, they remain very hard to implement due to economic factors [11].

Migration did affect its surroundings but not as much as it affected the migrants. Myanmar has brought thousands of people to the verge of poverty and desperation. People escaped because of persecution but consequently face overcrowded and unhygienic refugee camps in Bangladesh. Food and drinkable water are scarce, the weather conditions are cruel and sanitation together with hygiene are particularly low despite Bangladesh’s efforts. To access drinkable water, women, who are particularly at risk, have to travel kilometres and overcome long queues at odd hours [12]. Moreover, the lack of education creates an unstable future for upcoming Rohingya generations. The UN offers refugees aged 4 to 14 two-daily hours of English, Burmese, math and life skills in its camps however, no schooling is given to refugees aged 15 to 18. Without having the possibility to attend higher education or education at all, the Rohingya are at risk of being a lost generation [13].

The most crucial question then appears to be: why has nobody intervened yet? In international relations, allies are extremely crucial in moments of crisis or war and Myanmar has very powerful ones: China and India. Both countries are afraid of the growth of terrorism however, India feels particularly threatened. Its intelligence services have found links between the ARSA, Bangladesh’s Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) and the Indian Mujahideen who would apparently be all backed by the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba. The latter was involved, according to the Indian government, in terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, thus eradicating terrorism has become of pressing importance. Moreover, both countries have massive infrastructure projects in the Rakhine state, where the Rohingya are mainly migrating from. China, for instance, has invested in the Kyauk Phyu port, which is to be the starting point of an oil-gas pipeline and railroad link to Yunnan state (China) whereas India funded Kaladan project which would provide a sea-river-land link to its remote northeast through the Sittwe port [14]. Their backing is very crucial in sustaining the Myanmar’s aims but specifically China is of upmost importance. As a matter of fact, China retains the threat of its veto power in the UN Security Council which continues stalling  the possibility of action [15].

On the other side, Western and majoritarily-Islamic countries are demanding answers from the Myanmar government. Without the approval of the UN Security Council however, it is dangerous and unwise to intervene in the region as it might overstep Myanmar’s sovereignty leading to further escalation of violence among different countries. Turkey has been the only international actor who has sent high profile figures including the first lady and foreign ministers to visit Rohingya people and examine their state. Turkey, in fact, keeps sending aid to the refugee camps in Bangladesh [16]. Other states including the United States and organisations such as the European Union have seemed reluctant to intervene individually, both dealing with their own migration agendas. Thus, the crisis has reached a point of stall in international negotiations with an increasingly complex situation and lesser momentum towards solving it. Rohingyas are still awaiting substantial help by the international community and continue to suffer persecution and sufferance until they do.

Eleonora Vassanelli

Eleonora is a yecond year International Relations student at King’s College London, writing in the capacity of contributor for Sensus. Amonst others, her interests include migration, Human Rights and intelligence, and her main areas of interrests are Latin America and Europe.



  4. Parashar, A., Alam J. (2019) The National Laws of Myanmar: Making of Statelessness for the Rohingya. 57 (1). 94-108.