Rohingya Muslim crisis: What people in Burma are saying about it

Despite widespread international condemnation, the country's leaders appear to maintain support in their home country

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Tuesday 10 October 2017 11:51
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Aung San Suu Kyi publically condemns Rakhine violence

Burma’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims has lead to widespread condemnation from the international community, with the United Nations (UN) calling their treatment “textbook ethnic cleansing”.

But although over 500,000 have fled violence in the south east Asian nation's Rakhine state to seek refuge in Bangladesh in recent months, inside the country, the government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, appears to maintain widespread support.

In its largest city Yangon, the term Rohingya is reportedly not used and they are instead called “Bengali Muslims,” a term which is also used by local media.

While the Rohingya have lived as one of the ethnic minorities in the country for generations but are not recognised as Burmese citizens in the Buddhist majority country.

“The problem is the political motive behind the term [Rohingya],” U Aung Hla Tun, vice chairman of the Myanmar Press Council, told the BBC. “I used to have a number of Bengali friends when I was young. They never claimed they were Rohingya. They first coined the term decades ago.

“They do not belong to the ethnic minorities [of this country]. This is a fact.”

Another university student told the broadcaster that the international community is getting the “wrong” information about the situation in Rakhine state. They claimed that “the violence is an act of terrorism”.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees are now living in camps in Bangladesh.

They started to flee after an attack carried out by Rohingya insurgents in August on police posts and security personnel in Rakhine state saw the military retaliate with violence that left thousands of homes burned to the ground and hundreds dead.

The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has said Burma’s actions against the Rohingya people “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Ms Suu Kyi’s first public address on the Rohingya crisis last month saw hundreds of supporters gather in Yangon to hear the speech which saw her claim that more than half of Rohingya villages had not been affected by the violence. She also invited diplomats to visit the areas and see “why they are not at each other’s throats in these particular areas”.

Rights group Amnesty International subsequently accused Ms Suu Kyi and her government of “burying their heads in the sand” and of telling “uthruths” following the leader’s response to the crisis.

But she was nonetheless widely supported by those in the crowd.

One woman in the crowd called May Nyi Oo, who wore stickers depicting Ms Suu Kyi’s image on her cheeks, told The Guardian that “worldwide, a lot of fake news and rumours are spreading”.

She also referred to the Rohingya as illegal immigrants who “are not our people”.

Many people in Burma have appeared reluctant to talk about the Rohingya crisis, but continue to support Ms Suu Kyi’s decisions about the issue.

Thet Mhoo Ko Ko, who works in his family’s business, told Al Jazeera last month that he believes Ms Suu Kyi needs more time “and then she will be able to make things much better”.

“The Rakhine [situation] is a problem and it is very worrying,” he added.

A survey carried out in September by the Myanmar Survey Research company also found that 75 per cent of people believed the country is heading in the right direction, Al Jazeera reported.

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