The United Nations described the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the exodus, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
But the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, denies the Rohingya citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 census, refusing to recognise them as a people.
Amnesty International says the Myanmar military also raped and abused Rohingya women and girls.
There has been widespread condemnation of the Myanmar government’s actions but talk of sanctions has been more muted:
The UN Security Council appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence but no sanctions have been imposed
The UN’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has said an act of genocide against Rohingya Muslims by state forces in Myanmar cannot be ruled out
The US urged Myanmar’s troops to “respect the rule of law, stop the violence and end the displacement of civilians from all communities”
China says the international community “should support the efforts of Myanmar in safeguarding the stability of its national development”
Bangladesh plans to build more shelters in the Cox’s Bazaar area but also wants to limit their travel to allocated areas
Myanmar urged displaced people to find refuge in temporary camps set up in Rakhine state. In November Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar to return hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, but few details have been released
The UK has pledged £59m in aid to support those fleeing to Bangladesh. UK Prime Minister Theresa May also said the military action in Rakhine had to stop. The UK has suspended training courses for the Myanmar military
The International Crisis Group (ICG) also says the militants have trained abroad and released a report in 2016 saying the group was led by Rohingya people living in Saudi Arabia. The ICG says Arsa’s leader is Ata Ullah, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia.
Arsa says its aims are to “defend, salvage and protect” the Rohingya against state repression “in line with the principle of self-defence”.
This is in the context of extreme poverty, statelessness and restrictions on Rohingya people’s movement. The security forces crack down heavily on violence; a UN report in February described the “devastating cruelty” of soldiers who had beaten, raped and killed people in the region while it was in lockdown following the October 2016 attack.
The attacks on security forces have prompted a crackdown from the military, who say they are fighting against civilian-attacking militants. More than 100,000 Rohingya people have fled their villages and crossed the border to Bangladesh, where refugee camps are full. Many of them say the military, assisted by Buddhist monks, have razed villages and killed civilians. The government says Buddhists and Hindus have also fled attacks in the area.
I was able to meet a young man in his 20s, now in Bangladesh, who had joined Arsa four years before.
He described how the Arsa leader, Ata Ullah, had come to his village in 2013, telling them it was time to fight against the mistreatment of Rohingya.
He asked for five to 10 men from every community. A group was taken from his village to the forested hills, where they were trained in making crude bombs, using old car engine pistons.
Our informant said his village was encouraged by this, and began taking up food and other supplies to support the trainees. He eventually joined them.
They started patrolling the village, armed with sharpened bamboo sticks, and making sure everyone attended mosque. He says he never saw any guns.
We wanted to get the world’s attention, he said. We had been suffering so much, we thought it did not matter if we died.
He denied any links with international jihadist groups – we are fighting for our rights, and to try to get guns and ammunition from the Myanmar military, that’s all, he said.
On 25 August Ata Ullah, the Pakistan-born Rohingya man who started Arsa after an earlier wave of communal violence in Rakhine state in 2012, issued a video, flanked by hooded armed fighters.
He described the attacks that day as a defensive action, against what he called a genocide against the Rohingya.
He said his fighters had no choice but to launch the attacks against a Burmese army which had “surrounded and besieged us”.
He appealed for international support. He described Arakan, another name for Rakhine state, as rightfully Rohingya land.
But he has insisted in subsequent statements that Arsa has no quarrel with other ethnic groups in Rakhine state.
“Ata Ullah and his spokesmen have made it clear that they see themselves as an ethno-nationalist movement,” says Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst.
“They do not have any substantive links with international jihadism, IS [Islamic State group] or al- Qaeda. They see their struggle as regaining rights for Rohingya inside Rakhine State. They are neither separatists, nor jihadists.”
This is when many Burmese and Rakhine nationalists believe the Rohingya population in Rakhine was artificially boosted by Bengali immigrants.
By driving half the Rohingya population out of Rakhine in just four weeks, the military “clearance operations” would appear to have rebalanced the population firmly back in favour of the non-Muslims.
The Rohingya crisis is a crisis of resources boosted by huge numbers of Bengali immigrants which Myanmar is ill equipped to support. A compromise can be made if you understand the root concerns of both the buddhists and the muslims. The buddhists does not want to share the fruits of the land with the muslims which they consider as outsiders. The buddhist will not provide you any resources so the muslim must stand up themselves and depend on international aid. Both side must understand that this problem cannot be solved by violence. You also cannot sweep it under the rugs and pretend it did not happen. UN must step in and be the arbitrator to acknowledge both and prevent the military from committing genocide. This problem has gotten out of hand and my God has asked me to resolve to solve the suffering of the Rohingya people. God will punish those who commit genocide and the punishment will be worst than hell. Resolve this peacefully and enter to a whole new world of God’s prosperity. Wipe away your tears and cry no more. God’s judgement will be on those who will not co-operate and still create violence. My God has spoken and judgement will be carried out by my God.
Contributed by Oogle.