The Rohingya refugee crisis

Friday, September 22, 2017

The world has been in turmoil lately. Hurricanes and earthquakes have destroyed cities and lands on our continent. Hunger is threatening populations in East Asia. Civil war is still raging in Syria. Today instead of my usual Friday Favorites, I want to focus on a crisis which, until recently, was getting little attention in the US media: the Rohingya refugee crisis. 

The Rohingya, considered one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, are a Muslim group living in the Rakhine state of Myanmar -on the Western coast of the country, just south of Bangladesh.

(Map from the BBC Website)

Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country and the existence of a Muslim minority within its borders has been considered an issue for decades. After gaining independence from Britain in 1948, the government fell to a military coup in 1962. The political system became oppressive and repressive, in particular to its non-Buddhist populations. In 1982 the Rohingya were denied citizenship. As a result, they were denied basic rights, such as healthcare, education, and voting privileges. They became a stateless group within the borders of Myanmar. Over the years, many Rohingya have fled the country as a result of violence, more recently in the fall of 2016, resettling in Bangladesh, Malaysia, or Saudi Arabia. 

On August 25, 2017 of this year, a Rohingya armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), considered a terrorist group by the Myanmar government, attacked police posts in Rakhine State, killing 12 police officers. The response from the Myanmar army was, and continues to be, repressive and bloody, so much so that some UN officials have called it a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. More than 400,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh as a result of their villages being burnt to the ground and their family members, including children, slaughtered by the military. Time magazine has published heart wrenching photos of the refugees arriving in Bangladesh, some carrying their old parents in baskets, some carrying their infants to shore -reminiscent of the arrivals of the many refugees arriving in the coasts of Southern Europe. 

Around the world, leaders were expecting Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar State Counselor, position akin to that of Prime Minister, to publicly oppose the atrocities committed against the Rohingya. Suu Kyi is considered the Nelson Mandela of Myanmar because she was held on house arrest by the military junta for more than 20 years before being freed in 2010, and received a Nobel Peace prize for her efforts to bring democracy to the country. During her political campaign and after winning the 2015 general elections, she never spoke about this crisis for fear of being ostracized by her own party or even rejected by the military, who still rule the country. Finally, this week, on September 19, she spoke mildly about the crisis, condemning the violence on all sides (which reminded me sadly of Trump's comments on Charlottesville).

This week, the United Nations General Assembly is meeting and the Rohingya refugee crisis is one of the main topics to be discussed. France’s president Emmanuel Macron called the attacks on the Muslim minority a genocide. The US Vice President Mike Pence addressed the issue at the UN and described the attacks a "great tragedy." There finally seems to be more and more attention to the issue in media outlet and in NGOs appeals.

So that can YOU do?
1) Read about the situation and talk to your friends and family members about it. Post about it on social media. 
2) You can call your elected official, either your Congress representative or Senator, and tell them they should take a stand against the mass murders happening. Your voice does make a difference.
3) You can donate to organizations that are on the ground and/or advocate against crimes against humanity 

To read more (on tops of the links included in this post!):
- A good background on the Rohingya's status in Myanmar
- An in depth Analysis of what the world knew of the situation and why governments don't act to stop atrocities like these from happening.

Podcasts about this crisis:
- Global Dispatches has an interview with the Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch - Asia.
- Pod Save the World also published a great discussion on the topic..


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