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The Rohingya: Past, Present, and Future

Keith Leitich
Pierce College

Dr Eva Hansson
Stockholm University


Panel Abstract

The purpose of this panel will examine the Rohingya, their past, present and future. Arakanese Studies is a subfield within Southeast Asian studies sandwiched between history and anthropology of Bengal (India/Bangladesh) and Burma (Myanmar), its South Asian and Southeast Asian background. The papers will use a variety of methodological approaches to study the Rohingya. All three papers will examine various aspects of the Rohingya’s past, the present, and their future within the context of current historiography. Keith Leitich’s paper concentrates on the political geography of Arakan to test the plausibility of the migration and indigenous hypothesis’ of the Rohingya. Alexandra de Mersan’s paper centers on the present day conflict between Muslims and Buddhist in Arakan. Her paper uses an anthropological approach to examine the current conflict between the Buddhist Rakhaing and Muslim Rohingya in Arakan. Akkanut Wantanasombut’s paper looks at the plight of Rohingya refugees, searching for a better life, who have been trafficked in Thailand. He explores the issue of Rohingya trafficking in Thailand through interviews with victims, officials, and civil society.


Paper 1: The Rohingya Question: A Geographical Approach

Keith Leitich
Pierce College

Scholarly opinion on the origin of the Rohingya is divided into two schools; the migration theory and the indigenous theory. Each claims historical truth but there is neither archaeological evidence nor historical records to definitively support their respective thesis. Given the paucity of documentary evidence and the unlikelihood that the Burmese government will grant access to archaeological sites in the Rakhine Division in the near future, a different approach must be taken. This article will utilize a geographical approach coupled with an examination of the cultural history of the Rohingya to test the plausibility of the migration and indigenous hypothesis’.


Paper 2: The Rohingya: Views of the Arakanese

Alexandra de Mersan

June 2012, saw violent conflicts in Arakan State of Burma which was said to have opposed Muslims with Buddhist populations or Rohingya people against Rakhine (Arakanese). In this paper, I shall attempt to highlight the situation and give some keys for understanding, based on my anthropological research started in Arakan State fifteen years ago.
I will consider the figure of strangerness among Rakhine (Arakanese) and try to answer how far this conflict can be qualified as a “religious” one. This question is directly linked with religious nationalism which was allowed to express more strongly when the regime started its reforms in the country after the elections in 2010. Finally, the conflict underlines the question of ethnicity and access to citizenship in Burma.


Paper 3: Rohingya Trafficking: From Misery to a Nightmare

Akkanut Wantanasombut
Chulalongkorn University

When the new Myanmar citizenship law was enacted in 1982, millions of Rohingyas immediately became stateless. The conflicts in Rakhine state between the Burmese and the Rohingyas are still going on up to the present time. Many Rohingyas have decided to flee from their homeland, mostly by boats, seeking for a better life. Some of them die at sea, many of those who survive enter into the human trafficking process unexpectedly.

Early 2013, Thai officials successfully rescued almost 2,000 Rohingyas from the jungle near the Thailand-Malaysia border, where the traffickers detained them before selling them as slave laborers. A new reality was revealed: the widespread trafficking of Rohingyas. Many actors including Thai officials are suspected of being involved in Rohingya trafficking, while the Thai government has denied the presence of human trafficking. Instead of deporting them on charges of illegally crossing the border, for humanitarian reasons, the Thai government decided to detain the Rohingyas temporarily while finding a proper and sustainable solution. Unfortunately, in the absence of concrete measures, the exploitation and trafficking are still going on – the situation was made even worse when some officials were caught selling Rohingyas in detention centers to traffickers.

This paper explores the Rohingya trafficking processes on the basis of interviews conducted with victims, officials, and the civil society. It aims to find possible solutions and suggestions for stakeholders in order to end and prevent Rohingya trafficking.