Two Years Have Passed Since The Rohingya Persecution in Myanmar Began: How Much Do We Know Though?

“Textbook example of ethnic cleansing” - Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN Human Rights Council.

 

The United Nations recently carried out an independent investigation into alleged human rights abuses carried out against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, according to CNN. The result has called for the country’s military leaders to be prosecuted for genocide.

 

Her Campus staff writers sifted through reports, statistics and documents to inform our readers on who the Rohingyas are and why we need to pay attention to what is going on. Roughly two years have passed since Rohingya persecution in Myanmar began in late 2016. However, it is worthy to question how invested we have really been in the issue ever since the horrific human rights violations started to unfold. Read below to get the low-down. 

 

“It was 2AM when they came to our village. They set all our houses on fire. There was no time to grab anything. Not even food. All we could do was run,” recounts a Rohingya Muslim woman, in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. She holds her baby close, in the photograph taken by Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York (HONY). She continues her harrowing story, telling Stanton “One of my children died on the sixth day. Another died a few days later. Nobody even talked about it. We were too weak. I could barely even cry.” This is only one of the many stories Stanton documents, which reveal the frightening, perilous journeys Rohingya Muslims have made to flee from their violence engulfed homes in Myanmar.

The abominable persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military has been described by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierres as ethnic cleansing. Despite the mass violation of human rights and basic respect, no one really knows about the fate Rohingya Muslims have suffered in the past nine months. No one really knows who the Rohingya Muslims are. The question is, why is no one talking about it?

 

Who are Rohingyas?

The Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic minority, a total of 3.5 million people, who have settled in various parts of the world. Prior to August 2017, 1 million Rohingya Muslims lived in Myanmar, in the Rakhine State. However, Myanmar governments refuse to recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic group of the country. The leaders of the nation fallaciously argue that the Rohingya don’t originate from Myanmar, thus terming them illegal immigrants, even though their origins can be traced back to the migration of Muslims from the Arakan Kingdom of Myanmar.

 

Despite their historical ties to Myanmar, the government has not granted citizenship to them.

 

Rohingya, depriving them of any documentation that would make their residence in the country legal. Although Muslims in Myanmar were given identification cards and labelled as temporary residents, the cards were cancelled in February 2015 due to widespread anti-Rohingya protests. Muslims therefore don’t have a say in the politics of the nation due to a lack of representation in parliament. They are trapped in these conditions.

 

Rohingya Muslims are discriminated against on legal grounds as well, since the government dictates who they marry, how many children they have, which town they leave, who employs them, and so on.

 

What initiated the crisis?

In August 2017, the Arakhan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), labelled a terrorist organization, attacked police posts in Rakhine State, which resulted in 100 deaths. This instantly prompted the military to burn down more 200 villages in the state under the facade of counter-terrorism efforts.

 

Within the first month of the military’s brutal attacks, between 9,000 and 14,000 Rohingya were reported to have died as a result of being shot to death, burnt to death, beaten to death or stepping on a landmine. Human Rights Watch has also found evidence of mass rape and sexual assault of Rohingya women and girls, carried out by the military. In some cases, these women’s childrens were killed right in front of them, while they themselves were verbally and physically threatened. None of these women were able to get care while in Myanmar, and continue to suffer in Bangladesh due to lack of medical services and the stigma surrounding rape.

One woman, who was also photographed by Stanton, recalls “They were shooting so I couldn’t go back. And I couldn’t bring anything with me. I just ran into the forest with my children. And I forgot my baby boy. I left him in the house because I thought we were coming right back.” The amount of pain resulting from this happening is simply unfathomable. There are no words that could express the appalling, abhorrent and simply disgusting attack on basic human rights of Rohingya Muslims.

 

In response to this crisis, Myanmar’s chief executive, Aung San Suu Kyi, has barely even tried. She established the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Development of Rakhine State (UEHRD) to assist refugees in Bangladesh, help resettle the Rohingya who have fled, and develop the Rakhine state. However, this initiative is simply too idealistic because there is no way to ensure the military won’t attack the Rohingya if they do return. Moreover, if majority of the Rakhine State has left the country, who will the State be developed for? Officials in Myanmar can’t be trusted with assuring the safety of the persecuted population.

 

How is the world responding?

Frustratingly, the places where Rohingya Muslims are fleeing to, such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, still render them stateless due to complications with their legal status. A refugee that Stanton profiles, recounts the difficulties he has faced due to his status as a refugee, “My parents fled Myanmar twenty-five years ago, so I was born in these camps. I feel like a prisoner here. I don’t have any rights. The only thing that refugees are allowed to do is exist. It’s not legal for us to study. It’s not legal for us to work. Even if I earned a PhD, I wouldn’t be able to get a job in Bangladesh. But we can’t go home.”

 

These countries, except for Bangladesh, are also members of ASEAN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, thus need to construct a more realistic plan to assimilate refugees and avoid such a story from repeating. ASEAN could definitely do better, as it hasn’t ratified the UN Refugee Convention, which would legally bind nations to protect and respect refugees. Furthermore, ASEAN itself has a non-interference clause in their agreement, meaning no one is willing to take action towards Myanmar.

 

There had been public outcry over the genocide of Rohingya Muslims all across Asia and the UK, such as in Dhaka, Manilla, Jakarta, Pakistan and London.

Financially, other foreign countries have also been helpful. As of 2017, United States had given $151 million to Myanmar and Bangladesh, while Canada has donated $50 million to the Myanmar Crisis Relief Fund, focusing mainly on the needs of women and girls.

 

Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed an agreement to return Rohingya refugees to their homes, but no details have been publicly discussed. In the meantime, Bangladesh plans to build more shelters in Cox’s Bazar, which has the highest concentration of refugees. Stanton led a similar initiative in preparation for the monsoon season, where he raised slightly under $2.1 million in 2 months to build sturdy, bamboo homes (pictured below) for refugees. With this amount, approximately 3,290 houses can be built, all of which will be assigned to the most vulnerable refugees according to UNHCR.

Members of the NYU has also contributed to this growing humanitarian crisis. Imam Khalid Latif travelled to Bangladesh with Islamic Relief to aid refugees on camp, and successfully raised over $188,000. Various clubs such as NYU Bengali Student Association as well as NYU Indian Cultural Exchange have hosted discussion on the ongoing crisis.

 

However, still not enough has been done to raise awareness of the horrifying conditions Rohingya Muslims are facing everyday. This means that even the smallest contribution we make to call attention to the reality of almost a million individuals, can be very impactful.

 

The way to start is by donating. Other than UN based groups such as UNICEF, UNHCR, there are other local and international NGOs aiding in this crisis. The International Rescue Committee provides medical supplies and emergency relief to those who remain in Rakhine State despite the obstacles imposed by the Myanmar government. BRAC, founded in Bangladesh, is currently treating patients through mobile health camps, improving sanitation through installation of latrines and delivery of water, as well as constructing child friendly spaces to foster their mental and physical health. Other NGOs taking action: CARE International, Concern Worldwide, Action Against Hunger, and Doctors Without Borders.

 

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