Over the past month, the plight of the Rohingya has been publicized across the world, with even a top human rights official of the United Nations reporting it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Since the end of the August 2017, around 507,000 Rohingya have fled their own country into Bangladesh. Where they will go is as much a question as to how Bangladesh will support this swell of IDPs (Internally Displaced People) in their borders. And unfortunately, it’s not just a question of shelter. The government and the international community have to think about access to food, clean water, proper sanitation and treatment for those attacked in their own country, The International Organization for Migration has trucked over 243,000 litres of water but is that enough? Can any one organization do enough?
Thankfully, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated another 12 million USD to help these refugees. This is the preceded by the CERF usage of 7 million USD to help humanitarian actions in Myanmar. There is little question that the money is needed. No state government can cope with the massive refugee population at the gates.
But why is this happening? Why are the Rohingya being attacked? Why are their villages being burnt down forcing them to be chased out of the country? Who even are the Rohingya? Of the questions, we can answer a few.
The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority that are not eligible to be citizens of Myanmar. They arrived in the Rakhine area of Myanmar (then Burma) in the 8th century as seafarers of the Middle East. Some were forced into servitude, others used for slave labor. When the British arrived in 1825, there was a mass immigration of Rohingya to Myanmar (then Burma) to find work. This caused mass resentment among the local population. So when the military junta renamed the country Myanmar and shook off the colonialist rule of the British, becoming a free state after World War II, the Rohingya were massively discriminated against.
In 2012, camps were set up throughout the Rakhine area for the Rohingya, where they were unable to access schools or healthcare. Two years later, their identity cards were taken, and with that - the loss of the ability to travel. Now, mass persecution and ethnic cleansing have followed. Myanmar claims that the persecution is due to a series of violent attacks against the Buddhist population of Myanmar and cites its actions are primarily due to terrorism.
One particularly appropriate behavioral comparison to the Rohingya is the way that the United States government has treated its indigenous population, the Native Americans. They are considered outsiders. Forced from their lands, they are called “illegal immigrants”. The military has even made it their quest to force all Rohingya to leave the country of Myanmar. Why the military and not its leader? Aung San Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s de-facto leader’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. She has faced widespread international criticism for her lack of action. However it may be the case that it is the military that still runs the country and she can do little about it.
In many countries where there is internal unrest, the solution is often to find a scapegoat, a population to be targeted and ostracized in order to avoid an overt focus on other problems the country faces. While we cannot be sure this is the main reason for the atrocities being committed, it is one possibility. When we ask the question - why the Rohingya? - we’re asking the same question as with every other genocide. Why the Jews? Why the Armenians? Why the Aboriginal population of Australia? The reasons do matter, but what matters more is bringing attention to their plight - which is what we hope to do.
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