Every so often the tragic human situation of the Rohingyas pushes itself to the forefront of international consciousness. Lately it has been as a result of the Thai authorities forcing hundreds of desperate men out to sea in open boats and left to die. When 220 of these former Burmese refugees, known as Rohingyas, were discovered and then Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood celebrity and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, talked about their plight, it focused the spotlight on them again, if only briefly.
Then, the story disappeared, but not the reality of their impossible circumstances stuck literally between a rock and a hard place with no where to go. These persecuted and displaced refugees come from Myanmar (Burma) where they have lived for many generations, yet they are stateless, the government refuses to recognize these Muslims as citizens in the largely Buddhist country. Instead they make the lives of this minority intolerable and by doing so hope the estimated million or so remaining Rohingyas will follow the other 250,000 who have slipped over the border into the eastern part of Bangladesh. The Rohingyas and the Bangladeshis of the Chittigong region speak a similar language, are physically alike, and practice the same religion. Over the past two decades they have fled in successive waves looking for sanctuary.
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Originally published at The Huffington Post on the 6th of April, 2009.