An RTÉ News Photo Essay

Myanmar's Shame

A year on from shocking levels of ethnic violence against Rohingya by government forces and local militias in Myanmar’s Rakhine state - 700,000 of them fled for their lives - many say they can see no hope of ever returning home.


There are somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 million Rohingya in total. Many are undocumented; official figures are unreliable. The UN has described them as the most persecuted minority in the world.*

*UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, 2017.


The Rohingya are Muslim and have their own language and culture. Since the 1970s they have migrated across the region. Large numbers are now living in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India.


The largest population is in Bangladesh, followed by Myanmar, where until recently there were one million Rohingya. Most have now fled in fear of their lives, most to neighbouring Bangladesh, where the Rohingya population has now grown to around 1.3 million, with most living in refugee camps.


This clip of the arrival of the new British governor was filmed in 1923. During a century of violent occupation, labourers were brought from India and Bangladesh

Shut Out

When Myanmar gained independence in 1948, those migrants faced hostility. The Rohingya say they are indigenous to the region, yet many were denied citizenship. In 1982, this ban was extended to all Rohingya, including these people, who are crossing the Naf River into Bangladesh.


Minara Hassan, her husband Ekramul and their children lay exhausted after crossing into Bangladesh. Myanmar recognises 135 ethnic groups but refuses to include the Rohingya, who they call Bengalis (a region in India).

No Country

The Rohingya are ignored in the census and denied passports, making them the largest stateless community in the world*.



The vast majority of Rohingya refugees fleeing military violence are women and children.


A Rohingya man bathes before praying during Eid al-Adha festival ("The Festival of Sacrifice"). He has been living at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh for a year.


Many are crowded into ghettos in the poverty-stricken, western coastal state of Rakhine. Amnesty International says a vicious system of institutionalised discrimination confines people to open-air prisons in a system of "apartheid"*.

*Amnesty report "Apartheid in Myanmar's State", 2017.


Men, women and children cannot leave specific areas - even for medical treatment - without government permission.

Hate Crimes

Violence against the Rohingya has not abated with the political reforms in Myanmar seen in recent years. It has even increased significantly in the period since June 2012 when Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's party won by-elections.

*Society for Threatened Peoples, 2014.


After the killings of nine border police in October 2016, the government and local militias attacked Rohingya villages. Refugees accused troops of atrocities including murder, gang rape, arson and throwing babies into bonfires.

"Ethnic Cleansing"

In November 2016, the UN said the government had carried out "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya, an accusation made by Human Rights Watch back in 2013.


In August 2018 the UN called for top military commanders in Myanmar to be investigated and prosecuted for the “gravest” crimes against civilians under international law, including genocide.


These Hindu women cry near the corpses of family members. The bodies were discovered in mass graves. They are believed to have been killed by Muslim extremists, as the poison of religious and ethnic violence escalates.


Aung San Suu Kyi says such attacks justify her government's savage crackdown. The UN warns that the ongoing violence and persecution will lead to radicalisation amongst the Rohingya population, further fuelling the cycle of destruction.

Lost Generation

UNICEF warns that more than half a million Rohingya refugee children in southern Bangladesh face frustration and despair as they are denied proper education. It says without urgent action they will become a lost generation.

Fighting to Survive

For the Rohingya refugees there is little work, and every day is a struggle. These men are fighting over who can carry a basket for local fishermen.

Desperate Gamble

Many Rohingya risk their lives making dangerous water journeys. A few head for Malaysia across the Bay of Bengal. The vast majority, like these people, cross the Naf River into Bangladesh.

A Rock and A Hard Place

The Rohingyas' problems do not end if they manage to reach another country. These members of the United Hindu Front in India want to expel recently arrived refugees.