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Map of Burma/Myanmar

Map showing Burma/Myanmar. [1]

The refugees we interviewed were all Burmese Muslims--that is, Muslims living in Burma. Muslims have lived in Burma since at least the eleventh century, but have always been a distinct minority in the majority-Buddhist country. Muslims have had to struggle against persecution and discrimination almost since the beginning, including mass killings and prohibitions against practicing holy days. 

In the modern day, Muslims continue to suffer. Since 1997, there have been five major anti-Muslim riots, which have often turned violent. Such riots have often been sparked or encouraged by Buddhist monks; in 2001, for example, monks passed out large numbers of an infamously anti-Muslim pamphlet titled On The Fear of Losing One’s Race, which was believed to be a major contributing factor to a riot that killed 200 Muslims, burned 11 mosques, and damaged 400 homes. [2]


Taller Buddha of Bamiyan, Before and After Destruction

The larger of the two Buddhas of Bamian, as it appeared in 1963 and after its destruction in 2001. [3] 

Even at the best of times, Muslims are perceived as outsiders or foreigners. For example, Rohingyans (a separate, though largely-Muslim, ethnic group) are denied citizenship unless they can prove their ancestors lived in Burma before the British occupation--that is, unless that can prove that they are “really” Burmese. Foreign events also seem to have a disproportionate affect on how Muslims are perceived. It is believed, for example, that another major factor behind the 2001 riots was the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, a major Buddhist landmark in Afghanistan, by the radical-Muslim Taliban government. [4]

Though none of our interviewees mentioned these incidents as reasons why they specifically left, it’s not hard to see why these might have contributed: being treated as an alien in your own country and living under the constant threat of deadly violence would make anyone consider leaving their home.



[1] Map of Burma. CIA. 18 Jan 2007. Accessed 9 June 2015. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/%E1%80%99%E1%80%BC%E1%80%94%E1%80%BA%E1%80%99%E1%80%AC%E1%80%95%E1%80%BC%E1%80%8A%E1%80%BA#/media/File:Burma-CIA_WFB_Map.png.

[2] Crackdown on Burmese Muslims July 2002. Human Rights Watch. Accessed 3 June 2015. www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/asia/burmese_muslims.pdf.

[3] “Buddhas of Bamiyan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 13 May 2015. Accessed 2 June 2015.

[4] “Persecution of Muslims in Burma.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 2 June 2015. Accessed 2 June 2015.