Rohingya Muslims: among the world's most persecuted minorities
- The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. The government does not recognise them as one of the country's roughly 130 ethnic minorities.
- Most Rohingyas come from Rakhine state in north-west Myanmar,which shares a border with Bangladesh.
- Their roots are thought to date back to 1821, when Britain annexed the region as a province of British India and brought in large numbers of Bengali-speaking Muslim labourers, who later called themselves Rohingyas.
- When the country won independence in 1948, the Bengali-speaking Muslim population near the border exceeded that of the Buddhists, leading to secessionist tensions. This translated into harassment following a 1962 coup that has led to nearly five decades of military rule by the ethnic majority. Thousands fled to Bangladesh to escape a 1978 military campaign to force Rohingyas out of the country called "Operation King Dragon".
- In 1991, another wave of refugees fled to Bangladesh, where the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says that 300,000 Rohingya now live a perilous, stateless existence. The UN has said the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
- Rohingyas in north-west Myanmar are restricted from travelling inside the country, and those already in Bangladesh have little prospect of ever returning home as long as the army runs the country. As a result, thousands have fled to try to start new lives, chancing their luck in rickety wooden boats they hope will get them to Malaysia, home to 14,300 official Rohingya refugees and maybe half as many again unregistered ones.
- In January 2009, Thailand's military was accused of towing 992 Rohingya boat people far out to sea before abandoning them with little food or water in boats without engines. The Thai government said its investigations were inconclusive. A Rohingya human rights group, the testimony of survivors and Indian police in the Andaman Islands have suggested as many as 550 may have died.