LANGSA, Indonesia, 15 June 2015 (IRIN) - Nur Yanah can’t hold back the tears when she recalls hundreds of emaciated boat people arriving in her native Aceh province after being rescued by local fishermen in defiance of the government decision to leave them adrift. The new arrivals were Bangladeshis escaping poverty and ethnic Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
The administration of President Thein Sein has refused to disclose any evidence the “Myanmar Muslim Army” is real, and this has raised the prospect of the government inventing an Islamic terrorist threat to justify a new front in its longtime persecution of Muslims. All of them were arrested between September and November.
The most controversial aspect of the census recently held in Burma has been the denial of the large Muslim population in Arakan to identify themselves as Rohingya, the term of their choice. The government ban means as many as one million people remain uncounted in Arakan. That is scarcely surprising, as the Burmese government, Rakhine ultra-nationalists and seemingly a majority of the Burmese population have denied for years the existence of the Rohingya identity.
On one side of a checkpoint, he is a Muslim living in a wretched refugee camp. On the other side, he belongs to the majority Buddhist community in northwestern Myanmar's Rakhine State. The checkpoint separates Buddhists and Muslims in a region that erupted in sectarian violence in June 2012, forcing more than 70,000 internally displaced Rohingya Muslims into camps.
President Thein Sein proclaimed before the UN last week that his government places a high priority on ending ethnic conflicts, but that has proved elusive in ruggedly beautiful Kachin state, where the race to exploit abundant natural resources feeds a growing humanitarian crisis. Pictures by Arturo Rodriguez.
'I didn’t know it was going to be like this,' says Mohammad Idiris, a Rohingya Muslim speaking from a refugee camp in Aceh. 'If I had known, I would have stayed in Myanmar.' Last October, Mohammad Idiris put himself in the hands of human traffickers in Myanmar. His decision followed years of ethnic persecution of Rohingya Muslims, and it started a harrowing journey of more than six months that never brought him to his chosen destination, Malaysia.