The Rohingya are a Muslim minority, forming 90 percent of the one million people living in the north of Rakhine State in Myanmar, ethnically related to the Bengali people living in neighbouring Bangladesh’s Chittagong District.
Some Rohingya have been in Myanmar for centuries while others arrived in recent decades; regardless of how long they have been in country, Burmese authorities consider them undocumented immigrants and do not recognize them as citizens or as an ethnic group. As a result, Rohingya are stateless, according to the 1982 Burmese Citizenship law, and are viewed as a source of instability in the country.
In the past six months, resentment of aid groups has been building among some Buddhists because of charities’ perceived preferential treatment of the Rohingya, who make up the vast majority of those displaced by the recent unrest. Many aid groups that once provided life-giving support to the Rohingya’s squalid camps have either been banned or forced to flee, their compounds ransacked by Buddhist mobs.
The mobs also gathered after a UN-backed national census, the country’s first in 30 years. The UK’s Department for International Development donated £10 million ($16m) to the project. Days before the count, Buddhist nationalists – roused by hard-line monks – threatened to boycott the census if the Rohingya registered their ethnicity. In an attempt to keep the peace, the government barred Rohingya from taking part in the census unless they identified themselves as “Bengali”.