Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Rohingya tragedy
Here is some information that was sent to me by Kuranda Seyit from Fair
- truly an appalling situation that needs our immediate attention, internationally.
No-where to go….
By Kuranda Seyit

The Rohingyas are an Indo-Arayan people based in Arakan (today referred to as Rakhine state in Myanmar) and their history dates back to the 8th century CE. Over the centuries Persian, Arab and Turkish sea traders came to the area, bringing with them Islam. This land was given the name Arakan, which is a Persian word.  Likewise the Rakhine people have been in the region since the 8th century, however they are a Sino-Tibetan people and follow Buddhism.
The Rakhine and Rohingya lived side by side in peace.  It was not until the Burmese invaded in 1789,

that thousands of  Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims fled to the safety of British occupied India. These people never returned and today many Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims still reside in Bangladesh. Then in 1824, after the British invasion, the Rohingyas and Buddhists were pitted against each other.

In modern day Myanmar, it is a very different story.  Since independence from British rule in 1948, Burma has been on a bumpy road to nationhood.  Rocked with instabilities on its north-eastern border in Shan state, a protracted conflict with the ethnic Karen in the eastern state and more problems with Kachin in north-western state of Chin.  The Rohingya were actually recognized as one of the ethnicities that make up the various nationalities of Burma by the founding father General Aung San.

But today, after 50 years of junta rule, Myanmar has moved into new direction which has enticed many affluent nations to take interest, besides opening the door to foreign investment, it held elections in 2010 and a non-military person was elected as president of the Union of Myanmar, Thein Sein.
Yet, within two years an intense ethnic conflict erupted in Arakan state and machete wielding mobs led by monks (a part of the terrorist group called 969), rampaged through Rohingya villages and neighbourhoods in the capital Sittwe, burning houses and killing many Rohingyas.

A most telling report by Human Rights Watch released last month confirmed Rohingya eye-witness accounts that police shot and killed Rohingyas to stop them putting out the fires.  Human Rights Watch describes the situation in Arakan state as ethnic cleansing. It is clear, according to the report, that Buddhist Arakanese are systematically working towards eliminating all Muslim Rohingyas from key cities and townships in the state.

I visited the region in April 2013 and witnessed appalling conditions in the camps with many sick and malnourished Rohingyas, living in a state of fear. After the initial attacks in June 2012, where thousands of Rohingyas were hacked down, their houses burnt and looted and their shops and mosques destroyed, over 115000 people were herded like sheep into one corner of the small peninsula of Sittwe, what has now become the largest open air prison in the world!  In the Rohingya refugee camps, they are not allowed out and if they do they will be cut down, like lambs in a slaughterhouse.  In fact, on June 9, 10 and 11 the blood flowed freely in Sittwe and men, women and children were massacred, their bodies taken away by authorities and their homes bulldozed.
My experience in the Muslim refugee camps was very depressing.  I spoke to many people and they told me their stories of woe, many complained that they did not have enough food and about illnesses such as dysentery and malaria. One mother said she lost her baby to malaria.  Others were distraught with their situation and complained about the conditions; no schools, no clinics and no work or a future.  No-one could go outside of the camp area as they feared for their lives.

Time is running out for these people.  In the camps, there is little food, NGOs are hampered in getting their relief aid to the camps, there is only one clinic and two schools for 100000 people. Many people are forced to sell their rations to buy important non-food items like soap, clothing, shoes and blankets.  There are over 30000 children who cannot read, write or understand basic math or science, creating  a generation of illiterate Rohingyas, a deliberate ploy by the government to prevent Rohingyas resisting or moving socially upwards into more affluent positions.
The situation in Myanmar is quite complex and extremely difficult to resolve. The greatest obstacle to a solution is the military government itself. They, in collusion with the ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups, particularly the Rakhine Buddhists, are determined to eradicate Muslims from Rakhine.  Although the Rohingyans have been in the area as long as the Rakhine themselves, they are being portrayed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The key issue for the Rohingya is identity and inclusion in the national group of 88 ethnicities in Myanmar. They have been excluded under the Citizenship Act of 1982, which denies Rohingyas their Burmese nationality.  This renders them stateless and very few nations are willing to bat for them.  The Yangon government has made it clear that Rohingyas who were forced from their villages and their homes looted and burnt, will not be allowed to rebuild or move back. They are now being permanently settled into a new area, with virtually no resources or infrastructure and with nowhere to go except the sea, something the Rakhine are keen for. In fact, many have already taken that option, some taking small fishing boats to Sri Lanka,  Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, many dying in rough seas and others making it and being locked up in detention centres.  Currently, it estimated that over 300000 Rohnigya Muslims are living in refugee camps outside of Myanmar.

The most shocking aspect to all of this is that foreign investments have meant that countries are willing to turn a blind eye to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ as HRW has called it, in a hope to grab a piece of the pie.  Myanmar is not only rich in natural gas in the Arakan state, it has thousands of acres of forests, rich in teak, diamonds, jade and rubies as well as the potential for a fast growing tourism industry.   The USA was the first to lift sanctions only weeks after the June massacres. Then Australia partially lifted sanctions and set up a trade commission based in Yangon.  Only a few days ago, the European Union also lifted sanctions.  So, the military backed government of Thein Sein has been rewarded  by the West for killing Muslims.
These people are a stateless people, with no identity and nowhere to go.  Without an identity, they are rendered as unwanted garbage, no country is willing to take them and although they have lived in the Arakan state for over 1200 years, they are denied their own history and labeled as “kalars” or “invaders”; a derogatory term used by the Buddhists when referring to Rohingyas.
The 2015 elections have some very sad predictions in store. The Rakhine are pushing Yangon to exclude the Rohingyas from their right to vote and if the Rohingya try to vote they will surely be attacked.  Even as recently as April 20, the Deputy Immigration Minister visited the camps, summoned the Rohingya community leaders and gave them an ultimatum and a threat; to sign new identity papers declaring that they are illegal workers from Bangladesh or he will unleash the Buddhist 969 terrorist group onto the camps.

There could be some very nasty flare ups leading to the elections in Arakan state.  Leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi must speak out and call for peace and urge her government to protect its minorities, otherwise, the Rohingyas have no voice and no friends to speak for them.  Right now, many are sitting on the shore line looking out to sea and the people smugglers are circling like vultures, ready to take their human cargo and dump them on foreign shores.  Out of sight, out of mind.

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