The Muslim Rohingya who have fled “textbook ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar to arrive in makeshift camps in Bangladesh are unwanted by both countries.In Bangladesh they are a burden; in Myanmar they are despised.
The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens by Myanmar and have lived under an apartheid system in the western Rakhine state for decades.
Most people in Myanmar see them as illegal immigrants from across the border but mainstream media usually says the Rohingya have ‘lived in Myanmar for generations’.
So what does that actually mean?
Where did the Rohingya come from and where do they belong?
Kings and coins: the early days
The borderlands of the two nations have long been a frontier between Buddhism and Islam, fluctuating over time as kingdoms rose and fell. Historical evidence of Muslims living permanently in the area now known as Rakhine State goes back at least to the Mrauk-U kingdom of the 15th century.
“Some [Muslims] were serving in the court as ministers, even prime ministers — there were generals in the army, the royal army,” Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader, interfaith activist and educator, said.
“Devout Buddhist Rakhine kings, they had Muslim titles … and these kings they minted coins with Arabic inscriptions,” Aye Lwin told the ABC.
“So this clearly shows that these groups were intermingling,” he said.
Rakhine historians see it differently.
“I never deny the existence of [the] Muslim community in the Mrauk-U kingdom before the Burmese conquest of the kingdom in 1785 … but it was a very small community,” Aye Chan, professor emeritus at Kanda University, said.