Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Assessment for Rohingya (Arakanese) in Burma

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Rohingya (Arakanese) in Burma, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
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 three of the six factors that increase the chances of future rebellion: current rebellion; territorial concentration; and recent government repression. Since the late 1980s, the military junta has negotiated ceasefire agreements with fifteen ethnic groups, including the Rohingya-supported All Burma Muslim Union. However, given the severe political, economic, and cultural discrimination against the Rohingyas, it is unlikely that low-level resistance will cease in the near future.

Analytic Summary

The Rohingyas are also referred to as the Arakanese as they primarily reside in the mountainous western state of Arakan that borders Bangladesh (GROUPCON = 2). 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 = 3). 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 they have lived in the country since 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 some 20,000 left by the end of 2000 after the rest had returned to Burma. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has financially supported the camps.

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.

Political and economic discrimination is the result of formal exclusion and state repression (ECDIS03 = 4; POLDIS03 = 4). Group members are subject to arrests of Rohingya leaders, torture, restrictions on free movement, forcible resettlement, and military campaigns against rebels. 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. Along with seeking greater political rights and participation, the Rohingyas support the attainment of widespread autonomy (SEPX = 3). 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, although some conventional organizations exist. The main rebel groups are the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and the Arakan Army, which reportedly operates from the Indian-controlled Andaman Islands. The All Burma Muslim Union (ABMU) reached a ceasefire deal with the military junta in 1995, but in recent years the organization has reportedly been active in efforts to mobilize the country's ethnic and opposition groups against the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The Rohingyas are a factionalized group but there have been no violent incidents between members in recent years (COHESX9 = 3). 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, PROT; REBEL00 = 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 2003 (REB01-03 = 0).


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