All of that changed in early June this year when communal clashes involving the Rohingya and the Rakhine ethnic group erupted in western Burma in early June of this year. Both the Muslim Rohingya and the local Rakhine Buddhists suffered serious casualties, about 80 killed in total, by official count. Human rights groups say that the figure is likely to have been much higher. In late October, the violence erupted again, with at least 64 killed by official count and thousands of homes destroyed by fire.
Tensions and fears on both sides are still high, and another round of unrest could erupt at any time. Constantine’s book focuses on the nearly 300,000 Rohingyas who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, many of them leaving Burma after the junta led by General Ne Win launched a purge of “illegal foreigners” in 1978. In Rakhine, this resulted in widespread brutality, including mass arrests targeting the Rohingya population. Some 250,000 Rohingya refugees then flooded into Bangladesh. These refugees are now targeted by the Bangladesh government as unwanted and they have suffered from periodic attempts to shut down the crowded refugee camps in which they have sought shelter. Following the June violence, hundreds of Rohingyas attempted to flee to Bangladesh in boats across the narrow Naf River and by sea. Bangladesh border guards forced them back. A few escaped into hiding in Bangladesh.