How Bad is the Rohingya Crisis?

Pretty bad.

Less than a week after posting about the satellite views showing entire villages razed to the ground, we have a piece from the Economist looking at refugee outflows. And they are worse than the outflow of refugees during the Rwandan genocide back in 1994.

To be clear, they are not saying that nearly a million people have been killed—though there is quite a bit of evidence to say the Burmese security forces are cleansing the state of Rakhine of one of its primary ethnic groups.

That is a lot of people fleeing Burma
That is a lot of people fleeing Burma

But when it comes to the chart, I am not quite sure what I feel about it. It uses both the x and y axis to show the impact of the refugee outflow. But the problem is that we are generally rubbish at comparing areas. Compounding that, we have the total number of refugees represented by circles, another notorious way of displaying areas. (Often people will confuse the circle’s area with its radius or diameter and get the scale wrong.)

I wonder, would a more straight forward display that broke the dataset into two charts would be clearer? What if the designers had kept the Marimekko-like outflow display, but represented each crisis and its total outflow as a straight bar chart to the right of the timeline? (I do think the timeline is particularly good context, especially since it highlights the earlier persecution of the Rohingya.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s Data Team.

Burning Out the Rohingya

For years the Rohingya people, largely Muslim, in Burma (also known as Myanmar) have faced persecution from the majority Buddhist Burmese to the point that they are not considered citizens. Over the last several weeks, the Burmese government has reacted to assaults against civil authorities by armed Rohingya groups by burning villages wholesale. Burma denies it, occasionally going so far as to say that the Rohingya have in fact burned their own villages.


The New York Times had an article on the Rohingya crisis, which if it is not already is now perilously close to being ethnic cleansing. Online, an article offered more, comparing satellite views of villages before and after their burning to the ground.

Before and after
Before and after

This week global leaders are meeting in New York at the UN General Assembly. Undoubtedly and rightly they should discuss issues like North Korea’s two programmes, one of developing nuclear weapons and the other of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. But, hopefully they will not be silent on this issue.

Credit for the piece goes to Sergio Peçanha and Jeremy White.