Rohingya Crisis: Focus on 'Intolerant Religion' Disregards Complex Moral and Policy Challenges

Identifying religious difference, and discrimination as the main culprit in the Rohingya crisis masks the economic and political interests that are profiting from their subordination and repression. It deflects attention away from state-sponsored violence, political and economic ambitions of the governing elite, and the anti-immigrant and xenophobic basis of the discrimination.

The United Nations (UN) recently described the humanitarian situation for the Rohingya in northern Rakhine, in Myanmar, as catastrophic (BBC 2017). The situation is worsening by the day, as humanitarian aid agencies and organisations are banned from the area by the Burmese government in an attempt to control events on the ground and stymie efforts to provide aid to the Rohingya. For decades the Rohingya have been denied citizenship by the Burmese state, classified as Bengali immigrants, and subject to virulent forms of discrimination. Today they are being subjected to what Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” (Sullivan 2017).

The situation is increasingly desperate. Macarena Aguilar Rodriguez, a UNICEF spokesperson quoted in the Guardian, said:

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