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June 19, 2013
Thousands of Rohingyas flee from Myanmar each year on rickety boats seeking refuge and jobs in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, but the number has swelled since unrest last year.
After independence in 1948, Myanmar’s new rulers tried to limit citizenship to those whose roots in the country predated British rule.
A 1982 Citizenship Act excluded Rohingya from the country’s 135 recognized ethnic groups, denying them citizenship and rendering them stateless.
Bangladesh also disowns them and has refused to grant them refugee status since 1992.
The government puts their number at one-point-three-three-million in the country of 60-million people, and say one-point-zero-eight-million are in Rakhine State.
Only about 40-thousand have citizenship.
Myanmar’s transformation from global pariah to budding democracy once seemed remarkably smooth.
After nearly half a century of military dictatorship, the quasi-civilian government astonished the world by releasing dissidents, relaxing censorship and re-engaging with the West.
Then came the worst sectarian violence for decades.
Clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims in June and October 2012 killed at least 192 people and displaced 140-thousand.
Most of the dead and homeless were Muslims.
From October 2012 to March 2013, between the monsoons, about 25-thousand Rohingya left Myanmar on boats, according to new data from Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group.
That was double the previous year, turning the Rakhine problem into a region-wide one.
While many in Myanmar deem the Rohingyas as immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, authorities in Dhaka do not recognise them as Bangladeshi.
Many Rohingyas have perished in the rickety boats they use to flee persecution in Myanmar.
Even for those who survive treacherous sea crossings their future in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia is uncertain and plagued with poverty and violence.
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