The Rohingya refugees are a Muslim people group from the Rakhine State in Myanmar. The Rohingya people have a long history of displacement and conflict. We interviewed Bruce Luo, Area Director of East and Southeast Asia to shed light on their situation and challenges today.

Can you describe what Rohingya people are going through?

Rohingya refugees lack resources, including water, medical attention, food, and proper living conditions. The recent military coup in Myanmar caused several civil wars in Rakhine state, where a large percentage of these refugees live, creating a dangerous environment for the people. Roughly half of the group left as a result of the conflict, while others remain in conflict zones. These people are completely isolated and forgotten. They’ve been stuck in a power struggle for years.

The Rohingya people in Myanmar have a history that is much more complex than what we can understand or imagine.

What do these refugees have in common with other refugees? How are they different?

Rohingya refugees, like other refugees, have been forced to leave their home country to escape war, persecution, disaster, and so on. So they share in the struggle of lack of resources, social identity and status, human rights, and justice.

However, Rohingyas are actually one of the Muslim minority groups that have been living in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and areas neighboring Bangladesh for centuries. Refugees are typically not considered refugees in their home state, but that is not true for the Rohingya people living in Rakhine state. This is what sets the Rohingya refugees apart from some of the other refugees in the world.

There are refugee groups in the world faced with similar situations, like Kurdish refugees as an example, who live in Iraq but are not considered citizens in their country. By no means are the Rohingyas the only group treated this way; nonetheless their situation is unique. They are seen as foreigners in their home state.

All this to say that they are not meant to be refugees, rather residents. Today in Myanmar, the Rohingya people are not recognized as an official ethnic group. They are not welcomed by other neighbouring countries either. The biggest and most unfortunate difference between the Rohingyas in Myanmar and other refugees is that they are complete aliens, they do not belong to any country in the world.

How are our partners addressing Rohingya refugees’ needs at this time?

The Myanmar government has imposed restrictions on NGOs entering the Rakhine state. Aid agencies and even the locals are denied access. Our ministry partner in Myanmar had always wanted to start a ministry in Rakhine state but the door had remained closed. In late July and early August 2015, severe flooding caused by Cyclone Komen opened up the opportunity for our Myanmar coworkers to deliver much-needed aid and enter the disaster zones in Rakhine state.

Our ministry partner identified two local pastors who can speak Bengali and who are willing to work among the Rohingya Muslims in a township of Rakhine state. We have built a student center in one village and a classroom for tutoring in another village so far.

In Malaysia, our team helped more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees during the COVID-19 lockdown period. They partnered with the local churches to host 30-days of prayer for Rohingyas, inviting Christians to pray for salvation to Rohingyas Muslims during the Ramadan month. They also sent a fearless team to deliver over 100 sets of relief packages and 1,000 personal health sanitary packs to Rohingya communities. These communities were considered “COVID-19 Red Zones”.

Our local staff shared this profound quote from one of the leaders there: “While people are debating about the social status of Rohingyas, we have gone a step further by attending to their needs. Some are questioning if there is such a need to let the Rohingyas stay in Malaysia. It is self-entangling to answer the question. As we turn our eyes upon Jesus, we know it is His will and we will obey and follow.

“The biggest and most unfortunate difference between the Rohingyas in Myanmar and other refugees is…they do not belong to any country in the world.”—Bruce Luo

What are some specific ways people can pray for Rohingya refugees on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh?

Pray for the hearts of the Rohingya people. Not being a citizen of a nation is difficult to accept and comes with so much heartache and challenges many of us cannot fathom. We Christians know that in Christ Jesus there is lasting hope and citizenship that cannot be stripped away from a believer. Our missionaries are laboring in this ministry to bring glory to God through these undervalued people in our world, who matter to us and our Lord. Pray also for our missionaries. With their unique access in their contexts, they are breaking down barriers to reach out and minister to their own people.

World Refugee Day is on June 20. Throughout the month of June, we will highlight a few refugee groups of today to raise awareness and global support for displaced people around the world. Join us in prayer and support today.

“Love those who are foreigners.” Deuteronomy 10:19