The Rohingya people are one of many ethnic minority groups living inside Burma (Myanmar). They are Muslims and have been marginalized and persecuted in the predominantly Buddhist Arakan State by the Burmese military and police or other agents acting on their behalf.
The Burmese junta has continually tried to pit Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims against one another to keep them distracted and prevent the development of a strong Arakanese separatist movement. This has encouraged further segregation in these communities, and has led to extreme conditions of poverty and deprivation for the Rohingya in Burma.
In addition, The Burmese military has waged a long campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, complete with disappearances, arbitrary arrests, forced relocation, and many other human rights abuses.
This has resulted in an exodus of the Rohingya to Bangladesh, where they are forced to live in inhuman squalor in UN camps or make their own camps in the surrounding swamplands. They are also at the mercy of a local population who are extremely poor themselves and resent the presence of so many refugees in desperate need of help.
The situation of the Rohingya in Bangladesh is so dire that it prompted Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to call the Rohingya “the most persecuted people in the world”.
Given the conditions in Bangladesh, many Rohingya have tried to escape to other countries by sea, sometimes drifting for weeks without food. One group managed to land on a beach in Thailand after weeks at sea, only to be sent back out to die by the Thai Navy. They were never seen again.
Elsewhere, Rohingya end up as stateless refugees in a perpetual state of uncertainty, often living for years in miserable refugee camps and never granted citizen status. Many of the “boat people” that Australia keeps shuffling around between detention centers are Rohingya. The Australian government wants to “unload” them on Malaysia where they are often treated badly, but even their own courts recognize the abject inhumanity of this policy.