By Michael Murray
In the wake of the Myanmar 2016-17 Rohingya refugee crisis, the country has now allowed the repatriation process to begin. But, as the New York Times reported in August, things aren’t quite as they seem. Nearly 730,000 Rohingya still reside in Bangladesh, scarred and scared to return to the country that orchestrated mass killings of their people in mid-2017. According to Myanmar figures, 185 Rohingya have returned so far, although the Times reports that this number is realistically closer to 31.
The Rohingya people, an ethnic group that is predominantly Muslim, have historically always faced persecution in primarily Buddhist Myanmar. Yet, in 2017, this persecution turned into one of the worst human rights crises of the 21st century when tens of thousands were beaten, burned, and killed by Myanmar military forces. This genocide created an exodus of Rohingya people, who fled to Bangladesh to escape further killings.
Now, as tensions rise in already scarcely-resourced Bangladesh, many Rohingya have weighed their options and considered returning home. Yet, at “home,” the Rohingya people still face myriad challenges. Aside from returning and confronting the very people that insist they have done nothing wrong, Myanmar has set up the repatriation process in a way that forces those who return to accept identification cards that make their statelessness official.
Furthermore, those who return can no longer identify as “Rohingya” but instead must identify as “Bengali,” further complicating matters for hundreds of thousands who simply want to return to the place they call home.
USC students interested in learning more about Rohingya refugees and their stories can visit USC’s Shoah Foundation website to watch video testimonials of their experiences.