Myanmar’s Rohingya Refugee Crisis Explained

Every time when we talk about Rohingya people we never consider them as just a community of human beings.

Not only in India but in the whole world it’s a matter of political issue if we do not address Rohingya people as Rohingya Muslims.

Yeah, it’s true in the Rohingya community the majority of people are Muslims(Sunni) but there is also a Hindu minority group of people.

So, instead of addressing them as Rohingya Muslims can’t we use the term Rohingya Peoples?


The Rohingya people are a stateless Indo-Aryan-speaking people who are presently residing in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

These Rohingyas are Muslims of Mayu Frontier area of Arakan (Rakhine).

In the present day, the Mayu Frontier area is known as Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships.

These townships are an isolated province an isolated province in the western part of the country across Naaf River as the boundary from Bangladesh.


Rakhine a state in Myanmar is located on the western coastline, adjoining Chin State to the north, Magway Region, Bago Region and Ayeyarwady Area to the east, the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest.


Before elucidate I want to make it clear, Arakan now renamed as Rakhine is a state in Myanmar.

During the 4th century, the region of Arakan was the seat of Hindu dynasties until 788 AD.

Arakan was one of the earliest Indianized kingdoms in Southeast Asia.

The ancient Sanskrit epigraph in the Arakan region specifies that the founders of the first Arakanese states were Indian.

The Arakan was ruled by the Chandra dynasty.

British historian Daniel George Edward Hall who wrote broadly on the history of Burma states,

“The Burmese did not have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as the 10th century AD.

So, earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal.

All the capitals known to history have been in the north near modern Akyab”.

Arakan situated on the coastline of the bay of Bengal.

So, it became the contemporary key center of maritime trade and cultural exchange between Burma and the outside world, since the time of the Indian Mauryan Empire.

Arab merchants were also in contact with Arakan since the third century, they used to take a route through the Bay of Bengal to reach Arakan.

Some researchers and historians stated :

Muslims used trade routes in the region to travel to India and China.

Also, a southern branch of the Silk Road connected India, Burma, and China since the Neolithic period.

Some dashes of Arab traders are also noted in the coastal areas of southeast Bengal, bordering Arakan, since the 9th century.

The Rohingya population traces their history to this period.

To dominate the region of Arab traders married local women and later settled in Arakan.

As a consequence of intermarriage and conversion, the Muslim population raised in Arakan region.

But historical research indicates:

The earlier Arakanese inhabitants practiced Hinduism and Mahayanist form of Buddhism.

And the Arab influence raised to a large extent and during the mid of 10th century in Chittagong(District in modern Bangladesh) a small Muslim kingdom was established.

The Muslim population of Arakan increased, especially during the Mrauk-U dynasty.

(The Kingdom of Mrauk-U was a sovereign coastal kingdom of Arakan which existed for over 350 years.
It was in the city of Mrauk-U, near the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal.)

And large-scale conversions of Buddhists to Islam from the 15th to 18th centuries took place.

Modern-day Rohingya believe they descended from these early Muslim communities.


Arakan became one of the initial provinces in Southeast Asia to hold Dharmic religions, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism.

Islam arrived with Arab traders in the 8th century.

From the 15th century, Islamic effect raised during Arakan’s vassalage to the Bengal Sultanate.

The history of the region of Arakan (now renamed Rakhine) State can be roughly divided into seven parts.

  • Independent kingdoms of Dhanyawadi.

  • Waithali.

  • Lemro.

  • Mrauk U.

  • Burmese occupation from 1784 to 1826. Q

  • British rule from 1826 to 1948.

  • And as a part of independent Burma from 1948.

In the history of Arakan, all the above seven parts have their own importance.

But in this article, I am only trying to cover the history, origination and the refugee crisis of Rohingya people.


The Konbaung Dynasty conquered Arakan in 1784. Mrauk U was devastated during the invasion.

(The Konbaung reign previously known as the Alompra dynasty, or Alaungpaya dynasty, was the last dynasty that ruled Burma/Myanmar from 1752 to 1885. It created the second-largest empire in Burmese history.)

After the four decades of Burmese ruthless rule (1784-1824) on Arakanese, they ceded Arakan to British East India Company in 1826.


After the Konbaung Dynasty conquest of Arakan in 1784, approximately 35,000 people of the Rakhine State fled to the neighboring Chittagong region of British Bengal in 1799 to escape persecution by the Bamar and to seek protection under the British Power.

According to a report given by Francis Buchanan ;

“Soon after the conquest of Arakan, the Burmans put 40,000 men to death.

And wherever they found a pretty Woman, they took her after killing the husband; and the young Girls they took without any consideration of their parents”.

Soon The Burmese Empire ceded Arakan to the British East India Company in the 1826 Treaty of Yandabo.

(The Treaty of Yandabo was the peace treaty that ended the first Anglo-Burmese War or the first Burmese war.)

The Burmese Empire executed thousands of men and deported a considerable portion of people from the Arakanese population to central Burma.

So, when the British occupied Arakan, the country was a sparsely populated area.

The British policy was to encourage the Bengali inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into fertile valleys in Arakan as agriculturalists.

And the Kaladan and Lemro River Valleys were known for its fertility for growing high-yielding paddy.

As the British East India Company extended the administration of Bengal to Arakan.

There was no international boundary between the two countries and no restriction was imposed on the emigration.

In 1937, Arakan became part of Burma Province, which was separated from India into a distinct crown colony.

During World War II, Arakan underwent the Japanese occupation of Burma.

Arakan Division was one of the largest rice exporters in the world, during British rule.

The division’s dock and capital Akyab were dominated by Arakanese Indians, which caused tension with Arakanese Burmese.

(The Rohingya community or Arakanese Indians are Indo-Aryan-speaking people who reside in Rakhine State, Myanmar(formerly officially called Arakan.))

(The Rakhine people or Arakanese Burmese are an ethnic group in Myanmar (Burma) forming the majority along the coastal region of present-day Rakhine State (formerly officially called Arakan.))

Both groups were represented as natives in the Legislative Council of Burma and the Legislature of Burma.


After the independence of Burma on 6th January 1948 from the British rule, Arakan became part of the newly independent Union of Burma in 1948.

And the three districts became Arakan Division.

In 1982, the Burmese governing body validated a bill according to which the Burmese nationality law did not recognize Arakanese Indians as one of Burma’s ethnic groups.

Also, Arakanese Indians will have not any rights of Burmese citizenship.

In 1989, the Burmese government altered the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar.

And in the 1990s, the State Peace and Development Council changed the name of Arakan State to Rakhine State.

The province was renamed after the Rakhine ethnic group.

(The Rakhine people (formerly Arakanese) are an ethnic group in Myanmar (Burma) forming the majority along the coastline of present-day Rakhine Province (formerly officially called Arakan.))


The term “Rohingya” came into use in the 1950s by the educated Bengali residents from the Mayu Frontier Area and this term cannot be found in any historical source in any language before then.

May this term has been derived from Rakhanga or Roshanga, the words for the state of Arakan.

The word Rohingya would then mean “inhabitant of Rohang”, which was the early Muslim name for Arakan.

The word “Rohingya” was first pronounced by the Mr. Abdul Gaffar, an MP from Buthidaung, in his article “The Sudeten Muslims,” published in the Guardian Daily on 20 August 1951.

According to Andrew Tan arguments, “Rohingya” comes from the Arabic word Raham which means (God’s blessing) and speculates that early Muslims in Arakan referred to themselves as “God’s blessed people”

It could be possible that creators of the term “Rohingya” might have been from the 2nd or 3rd generations of the Bengali settlers from the Chittagong District in current Bangladesh.

However, this does not mean that there was no Muslim community in Arakan before the state was immersed in British India.

All the given information regarding “Rohingya” term is from some authentic documents including Wikipedia.

But there are several different views and perception of scholars, researchers, and historians regarding the nomenclature of the term “Rohingyas”.

Today use of the name “Rohingya” is polarized. The government of Myanmar refuses to use the name.

In the 2014 census, the Myanmar government forced the Rohingya to identify themselves as “Bengali”.

Jacques Leider writes “Many Muslims in Rakhine simply prefer to call themselves Muslim Arakanese or Muslims coming from Rakhine instead of Rohingya”.


The tension between Rohingyas and Myanmar government exploded in 1982.

And the main cause of this tension was the 1982 citizenship law of Myanmar, which prohibits Rohingya people from being a citizen of Myanmar.

As consequence approximately 1 million Rohingyas become stateless and they also deprived of basic human rights including education, medical facilities, and employment.

The government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, claims the Rohingya people are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Over the last few years, indictments of sexual assault and local disputes have created a breaking point for viciousness that has intensified into extensive communal violence/bangs.


June 2012

The rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman exploded the deadly manacle of events. 

It was most lethal incident instigated that year, extensive demonstration and clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left many Rohingyas dead and thousands of them displaced.

March 2013

A dispute took place in a jewelry shop at Meiktila in central Myanmar led to violence between Buddhists and Muslims. Once again this dispute left more than 40 people dead and entire neighborhoods destroyed.

August 2013

Demonstrators seared Muslim-residential and shops in the central town of Kanbalu when police refused to hand over a Muslim man suspect of raping a Buddhist woman.

January 2014

The UN said that more than 40 Rohingya men, women, and children were killed in Rakhine state in violence that spread after the allegations that Rohingyas killed a Rakhine Buddhist cop.

June 2014

Two people were killed and five injured at Mandalay, in Myanmar, ensuring a rumor flared on social media that a Buddhist woman had been raped by one or more Muslim men.

There is not any record of brutal genocide which is still going on year after year every day and every minute.


Rohingya people become one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Ethnic cleansing, gang rape, mass killings, and brutal beatings. Women become a victim of sexual violence.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee from
their homes in Myanmar.

Recently Bangladesh declared its plan to built one of the world’s major refugee camps sheltering more than 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who have pursued shelter from ferocity in Myanmar.

Most of the refugees are settled in Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar highway parallel to the Naf River bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Approximately 40,000 Rohingya refugees are settled in India.

There are many other countries who are providing shelters and refugee camps to these stateless people.

But what about their future? When will these stateless people have their own identity and their own land?