The Rohingya are stateless people who are also known as Arakanese Indians and practice Islam. There are an estimated 2 million Rohingya Muslims around the world, most of whom reside in Myanmar.
Myanmar is home to the largest Rohingya population in the world, with as many as 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims who were residing in the country before the 2016 crisis. The Rohingya have a long history in Myanmar which stretches several centuries to the past. However, the majority of the Rohingyas settled in Burma (present-day Myanmar) during the colonial period as the British Colonialists encouraged Muslims from neighboring Chittagong to settle in the uninhabited valleys in the Arakan region and offer cheap labor to the existing paddy fields. Rohingyas migrated into the country in thousands during the colonial period, seeking better opportunities in Burma but were resented by the native Burmese residents. Rohingyas were involved in armed conflict with the native Rakhine people during the Second World War which resulted in thousands of Rohingyas fleeing the country to become refugees in neighboring Bengal. The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have faced decades of oppression and persecution under the Myanmar government.
Bangladesh has the second highest population of the Rohingya people in the world. The total number of Rohingya in the country estimated to be as high as 0.5 million individuals, with the vast majority being made up of refugees from Myanmar. The small native Rohingya population in Bangladesh are found in the Chittagong region. While Bangladesh has opened its borders for the Rohingya refugees, the increased number of refugees in the country has created a humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh with over 65,000 refugees immigrating into the country between October and November 2016. There are as many as 200,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who are unregistered while only 32,000 refugees are registered with UNHCR and the government. The number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has reached unsustainable levels. The refugees have in recent years, become a security risk in some areas, with these refugees displacing local Bangladeshi people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Bangladeshi government has set in motion an ambitious plan of relocating the Rohingya refugees from the mainland to a remote island of Thengar Char.
Pakistan is home to a large number of Rohingyas who are estimated to be over 200,000 individuals. Rohingyas have lived in Pakistan for decades, emigrating from Myanmar in the late 20th century. The first wave of Rohingya immigrants from Myanmar arrived in Pakistan in 1942 after escaping a military operation in Burma. Majority of Rohingyas are found in the country’s capital, Karachi where they reside in housing colonies, which are slums. One such housing colony is the Burma Colony where thousands of Rohingyas live in deplorable conditions, lacking basic amenities. Rohingyas in Pakistan also have in recent years complained of police brutality from Pakistani police forces.
There are an estimated 100,000 Rohingyas in Thailand, the third largest population of Rohingyas outside Myanmar. Thailand was originally used as a transit point for Rohingya refugees traveling to Malaysia from Myanmar. The country received thousands of these refugees, from where they facilitated for their journey to Malaysia. This action which was seen as human trafficking attracted much criticism from humanitarian organizations. During the peak of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the government of Thailand offered to give humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees rescued from its waters.
Malaysia is home to an estimated 40,070 Rohingya Muslims. However, records from the UNHCR show that about 59,000 Rohingya refugees are registered in Malaysia. Being one of the few Muslim-majority countries in the region, Malaysia was the obvious destination for the Rohingya Muslims fleeing from persecution in Myanmar. However, originally Malaysia did not recognize Rohingya refugees and considered them illegal migrants as the country is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention. Currently, the Malaysian government provided temporary refuge for the fleeing Rohingya Muslims. The Malaysian government is also engaged in providing humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees who have settled in the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. This humanitarian mission also involves major companies in the Malaysian aviation industry including Malindo Air and Malaysia Airlines.
India also received, albeit illegally, a large number of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar who are estimated to be about 40,000 in the country. The Indian government had declined to open the country’s borders to allow the legal entry of Rohingya refugees, but many were able to infiltrate the porous border and settled in West Bengal, Jammu, and Assam regions. After gaining knowledge of the existence of Rohingya refugees in the country, the Indian government publicly declared its intention of deporting the refugees back to Myanmar, a declaration which attracted criticism from all over the world. However, the Indian government offers humanitarian assistance in the form of food, medicine, and other necessities to the Bangladeshi government which is grappling with the unprecedented influx of refugees.
The United States has the largest number of Rohingya Muslims outside of Asia which is about 13,000 Rohingyas residing in the country. The United States decided to open up its borders to Rohingya refugees escaping persecution in Myanmar and has been receiving Rohingya refugees since 2002. Majority of the refugees reside in Chicago. The United States has also been quite vocal in its criticism of the treatment of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar government.
Indonesia is another Muslim-majority country in southeast Asia. Indonesia has 11,941 registered Rohingya Muslim refugees residing in the country. Initially, the Indonesian government, who like Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations’ Refugee Convention, had declined to receive Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar but later offered to grant the refugees temporarily refuge in the country. Rohingya refugees in Indonesia rely on the support they receive from international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees since the Rohingya Muslims are not allowed to seek employment in the country.
The small nation of Nepal became a refuge for many Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. An estimated 200 Rohingya Muslims are living in Nepal. They come over to Bangladesh, then India, and finally cross the open border to Nepal.