Violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine State dates back many years. The modern conflict can be traced to the Second World War when the Rohingya sided with the Allied British forces and the Buddhists with the invading Japanese armies. Sectarian clashes have occurred ever since. In June 2012, violence between Buddhist and Muslim Rakhine communities once again erupted. Thousands of families were forced to flee their homes and villages, as deadly inter-communal violence gripped this remote western state situated on the shores of the Bay of Bengal.
The conflict claimed up to 167 lives, destroyed 10,000 buildings and ultimately displaced 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims, and a far smaller number of Rakhine Buddhists. The majority of displaced Muslims had been living in extremely poor conditions when I visited, occupying makeshift overcrowded camps that lacked adequate food, shelter, water and sanitation, medical care and schools.
Severe restrictions on freedom of movement are in place to keep the Rohingya communities ghettoized. For many, the only way to escape this desperate existence is to board overcrowded rickety boats and attempt to flee to neighbouring countries to seek asylum. Many do not survive these perilous journeys. Segregated, suffering, stateless. These are the forgotten people.