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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Rohingya (Arakanese) in Burma

View Group Chronology

Burma Facts
Area:    676,552 sq. km.
Capital:    Rangoon
Total Population:    47,305,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Rohingyas have two of the five factors that increase the chances of future rebellion: territorial concentration and recent government repression. Since the late 1980s, the military junta has negotiated ceasefire agreements with 15 ethnic groups, including the All Burma Muslim Union, which was once supported by the Rohingya community but has ceased to be active since the late 1990s. The group is now represented primarily by militant organizations, the most prominent of which is the Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO). Given the severe political, economic, and cultural discrimination against the Rohingyas, it is likely that low-level resistance will reemerge in the near future.


Analytic Summary

The Rohingyas are also referred to as the Arakanese Muslims as they primarily reside in the northern areas of the mountainous state of Arakan that borders Bangladesh (GROUPCON = 3). There have been significant migrations by group members both within Burma and into neighboring Bangladesh due to threats of or actual attacks by state authorities.

The most distinguishable characteristic of the Rohingyas is their adherence to Islam (BELIEF = 2). The Burmans, the country’s dominant community, follow Theravada Buddhism. Although Buddhism is not the official state religion, in recent decades the military junta has sought to elevate its status to the detriment of the country's religious minorities. Group members also adhere to different social customs than the Burmans (CUSTOM = 1).

Beginning in the 7th century, merchants from the Arab, Moorish, and Mughal areas began to settle in Arakan territory. The Arakan was ruled by independent kingdoms until the region came under the control of the Burmans in the 18th century. Following the third Anglo-Burman war late in the same century, the British captured control of Burma.

Relations between the Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhist Burmans have historically been tense. When Burma became independent in 1948, the North Arakan Muslim League engaged in armed attacks in an unsuccessful effort to have the northern part of the state join East Pakistan (REB45X = 4).

In the past three decades, there have been significant migrations, forced and voluntary, of Rohingyas to neighboring Bangladesh. In 1977, in response to the military government's attempt to identify illegal immigrants, some 200,000 group members sought refuge in Bangladesh. While most of them subsequently returned, in 1981-82 there was another exodus as Rangoon implemented a new citizenship law that required residents to prove that their family had been resident in the country before 1824. In the mid to late 1990s, further migrations to Bangladesh occurred, many of which were reportedly due to forcible expulsions by state authorities. From a high of 250,000 Rohingyas in Bangladeshi refugee camps in the early 1990s, there were approximately 21,000 officially registered Rohingya refugees left by the end of 2006 after the rest had returned to Burma. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has financially supported the camps, and Médecins Sans Frontières has provided humanitarian services in the camps since 1992.

The Rohingyas face many demographic stresses such as deteriorating public health conditions, declining caloric intake, dispossession from their land, and internal resettlement as a result of government policies. During the 1998-2000 period, thousands of villagers were evicted in order to transform their rice fields into poppy plantations. Further, some of the land that belonged to Rohingyas in Bangladeshi refugee camps was turned over to Burmans. Cultural restrictions against group members include numerous limitations on the practice of their religion, such as the requirement to register religious organizations and the use of forced labor to build Buddhist shrines, as well as a general prohibition of their right to marry (CULPO104-06 = 3). The Burmese government also does not recognize “Rohingya” as an official national ethnic group.

Political and economic discrimination is the result of formal exclusion and state repression (ECDIS06 = 4; POLDIS06 = 4). Group members are subject to extortion and arbitrary taxation, arrests, torture, restrictions on free movement, land confiscation, force labor, forcible resettlement, and restrictions on their rights to own property (REPGENCIV04-06 = 4). More generally, the Rohingya have been denied Burmese citizenship rights, which essentially renders them a stateless people. Since the late 1980s, the Burmese armed forces have more than doubled in size, now numbering 400,000. Chinese military assistance to the junta, in the forms of arms and training, has been critical.

Group members are mainly concerned about political and religious issues. According to its official website, the primary political objective of the Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO) -- and thus of its component organizations, the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organisaton (RSO) -- is self-determination and independence from Burma (POLGR04-06 = 4). The ability to freely practice their religious and cultural beliefs along with protection from attacks by other communal groups are also key grievances.

Militant organizations primarily represent group interests. The main rebel groups are the RSO and the ARIF, which together form the ARNO. The All Burma Muslim Union (ABMU) reached a ceasefire deal with the military junta in 1995, though this organization has ceased to be active. The Rohingyas are a factionalized group but there have been no violent incidents between members in recent years. In 2001, major anti-Muslim riots occurred in Arakan, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people.

While their history of rebellion predates Burma’s independence, since the mid-1970s the Rohingyas have also engaged in conventional political activities in pursuit of their goals (PROT75X = 4; REB45X = 4). Rebellion by group members reemerged in the mid-1970s after a two-decade break (REB75X = 4). In recent years, there have been low-level actions (PROT01 = 2; PROT02-06 = 0; REB00 = 1). In late 2000, there was a resurgence of rebel activity that led to an increased military deployment in Arakan state. However, no rebel activity was reported between 2001 and 2006 (REB01-06 = 0).



Europa Yearbook. 1993. Far East and Australasia.

Far Eastern Economic Review. Various reports. 1990-94.

Keesings Record of World Events. Various reports. 1990-93.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2006.

Marshall, Monty G. 6/1989. Rohingya in Burma Overview. Minorities at Risk, Phase I.

Médecins Sans Frontières. 2002. "10 Years for the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: Past, Present, and Fugure."

Amnesty International. 2004. "The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied."

Refugees International. 2006. "The Rohingya: Discrimination in Burma and Denial of Rights in Bangladesh."

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Burma. 2001-2006.


© 2004 - 2016 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of December 31, 2006