Rohingyas in Bangladesh: Owning Rohingya Identity in Disowning Spaces
Sultana, Ishrat Zakia
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This dissertation focuses on Rohingya people, with a special emphasis on Rohingya youth and young adults, and how they construct their identities. While Rohingya ethnic identity is deeply rooted in Burma, it is influenced by how they grow up and reach adulthood within a protracted situation in Bangladesh. Many Rohingya youth and young adults find it complicated to define who they are because they belong to a place, Burma, that does not consider them citizens, and they reside in a place, Bangladesh, that never recognizes them as residents. The uncertainty around Rohingya identity raises several questions: How does the experience of displacement and refugeeness in Bangladesh shape identity among Rohingya people, particularly among the youth and young adults? What is Rohingya identity? In what ways do they retain their Rohingya identity in the context of their non-citizen status in Bangladesh? While they are stateless, how are the social rights of citizenship experienced by Rohingya people? Using ethnographic methods, I spent nine months in Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh, between 2014 and 2016 to collect data for this research. I interviewed 44 Rohingya people. Rohingyas first arrived in Bangladesh in 1978. After that, many Rohingya people were born and/or raised in Bangladeshi refugee camps, and have never left, while others were forcefully repatriated by Bangladeshi government and then forced to return to Bangladesh again by the Burmese government during 1992-1993 (Abrar, 1995; Pittaway, 2008; Loescher & Milner, 2008; Ullah, 2011; Murshid, 2014). The findings of my research show that due to living in oppressive conditions, uncertainty, and the lack of an appropriate social environment, Rohingya people struggle with forming their identity. Their liminality, statelessness, and lack of rights have created an unsettled and hybrid form of identity for many youth and youth adults living within and outside the refugee camps. In this dissertation, I first describe the lives of Rohingya refugees, then I examine individual constructions of identity and how their sense of belonging is influenced by their refugeeness and lack of legal citizenship. Rohingya peoples struggle with identity formation can only be resolved when the Rohingya crisis comes to an end.