by Mark S.
08/07/2023 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) — The Rohingya are among the world’s most oppressed groups. But within the Rohingya there is a subgroup who are the oppressed of the oppressed. They are the Rohingya Christians. The Burmese military violates them for being Rohingya, and then their fellow Rohingya violate them for being Christian.
Following a series of military crackdowns that many consider a genocide, more than 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where most of them inhabit the Kutupalong refugee camp, which is the world’s largest such camp.
A large factor in the ongoing persecution of Rohingyas is that there is no country with much incentive to defend them. The vast majority of Rohingyas have no citizenship anywhere. Technically speaking, everyone has a right to citizenship. But there remain millions of people across the world who are stateless.
The Burmese government refuses to even use the term “Rohingya,” as it considers the people to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. During Myanmar’s 2014 national census, the government was forcing Rohingyas to declare themselves as “Bengali.”
In 2017, the situation became far more deadly for Myanmar’s Rohingyas, the majority of whom had to flee the country and eke out a life in the Kutupalong refugee camp.
In such a venue, the present and future can seem quite bleak for anyone. But they are more precarious yet for the Rohingya Christians — who often face threats, beatings, and the vandalism and looting of their homes. Some attacks have seen as many as a dozen Rohingya Christians injured and hospitalized.
Recent Rohingya Christian converts might be kidnapped and brought to a mosque for forced reversion to Islam. Or a Rohingya Christian girl might be kidnapped and then forcibly married to one of her Muslim kidnappers. In one such case, the girl’s father, a Christian pastor, was murdered.
Christians might also have to contend with false accusations, ranging all the way up to accusations of murder. Such circumstances mean that people who are already destitute might have to pay legal fees to defend themselves in court.
The main culprit behind these abuses is the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya rebel group that has carried out attacks against the Burmese military, as well as Rohingya Christians. Mohammad Sadeq, a Rohingya Christian, says that more than half of Rohingya Muslims is in favor of ARSA attacks against Rohingya Christians.
Peter Saiful, a pastor at the Bethel Church: Rohingya Christian Fellowship, estimates that about 70% of Rohingya Muslims support the anti-Christian attacks. He adds that this is “because of their Islamic scholars” who preach “hate speech against Christianity.”
Saiful, who is also a resident of the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, acknowledges that “there are a lot of good Muslims,” but if they “raise their voice” then groups like ARSA “will kill them.”
At this point, it is rare for a Rohingya Muslim to be friends with a Rohingya Christian. “If they are found to be friends with the Rohingya Christians, they would be expelled from their community or they would be beaten to death by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army,” said Sadeq.
Most Rohingya Christians are people who converted to Christianity within the last 20 years. Sadeq says there are no Rohingya Catholics, and that any Rohingya Christians are either Fundamental Baptist or Evangelical.
Christians account for far less than one percent of the Rohingya population. Saiful knows of only 1,500 Christians among the one million Rohingya living in Bangladesh.
Christian victims have scant options. “They can go to the authorities, but justice is not done,” said Sadeq, who points out that — as the refugee camps are in the majority-Muslim nation of Bangladesh — the authorities are themselves Muslim. In some cases, Christian victims who complained had their ration cards confiscated.
On a less disheartening note, Saiful relates that survivors of the most serious anti-Christian attacks have been relocated to a transit center, which offers better protection.
Though the plight of the Rohingya has garnered significant attention, there has not been much mainstream media reporting on the issue of Rohingya Muslims attacking Rohingya Christians. “They are not concerned about us,” said Sadeq.
Saiful notes that when Christians were attacked in the refugee camp, authorities would prevent journalists from entering the area. “Bangladesh doesn’t want the Rohingya Christian issue to be highlighted,” he said, adding that, “ARSA sexually abused seven women during the attacks, which was not reported by the media.”
Sadeq would like to see the international community do more to provide proper shelter and safety for Rohingya Christians, as well as obtaining justice for the severe attacks that have taken place against them.
Sadeq says that Rohingya Christians “would be happy to make a new life” in a different country. This opportunity, however, can prove quite elusive.
“When a Muslim leader was killed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, his family members and the relatives were resettled to Canada by the UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency], as was another Muslim activist,” said Sadeq. “But they are silent to the persecution often faced by the Rohingya Christians.”
He adds that, “One of the pastors was killed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, and his family is still there in Bangladesh without safety.”
Saiful said that Rohingya Christians would prefer to return to their homeland of Rakhine State in Myanmar, but the 2021 military coup has made returning unfeasible for the near future.
“Our plea to the international community is to come forward to push the government of Bangladesh to investigate the terrorist attacks towards the Christians in camp,” said Saiful, adding that there needs to be “real freedom of religious practice” and “real protection” of Rohingya Christians.