Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
The Silence of the Press
I was combing through my news feed, as I do every morning, and I saw headlines about the NFL protests and Jared Kushner’s Fifth Avenue Tower. The assaults by Harvey Weinstein, Bowe Bergdahl’s guilty plea, Jimmy Kimmel’s political jokes, and Donald Trump’s latest Twitter feud were also dominating the headlines that morning. In the midst of all this, one topic stands out because of its absence, and that’s the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by the Burmese military. I’m not particularly surprised that there’s no mention of the genocide; after all, the media’s silence on the conflict has been deafening these past few years.
From Bad to Worse
Unfortunately, things are only getting worse for the people who quite often are referred to as the “most persecuted minority in the world.” This is tragic in light of the fact that they were already living through fierce and devastating discrimination. The Rohingya people are a Muslim community who have lived in Myanmar (formerly Burma) for over 800 years. By birth, they have as much a claim to the land as anybody. When Burma was under British rule from 1824-1948, it was just another province of India. During that time period the Rohingya population increased as laborers moved to Burma from Bangladesh. Since the land was still all part of India, the move was no more significant than a Floridian moving to Ohio would be today. The British encouraged the influx of the Rohingya population and promise them land in exchange for their loyalty. Unfortunately, the Muslim migrants were looked down upon by the predominantly Buddhist Burmese natives. Tensions worsened during the Second World War when Burma backed Japan while the Rohingya remained faithful to Great Britain.
Burma achieved independence from the British crown in 1948, after which the new government declared that any migration that took place during British rule was invalid. This meant that the Rohingya, who had lived there for generations, were no longer citizens of their own homeland. For fourteen years they lived as second class aliens. A military coup in 1962 further changed the landscape of Burma. All citizens were required to obtain registration cards, since the Rohingya were no longer considered citizens they had to get foreign identity cards. This move barred them from the top jobs and educational opportunities. Since the 1970s, the Rohingya began to immigrate to nearby Bangladesh in search of educational and economic advancement. In 1982 Burma changed their citizenship laws, a move that left the Rohingya completely without a country. A military uprising in 1989 led to the deaths of thousands of Burmese citizens and a name change. Burma became Myanmar and Rangoon became Yangon (Though internationally both names are still recognized).
From Worse to Tragic
Over the last several decades the Rohingya have lived in Rakhine, a state on the Western coast of Myanmar. There they have limited freedoms and lack access to basic services, education, and opportunities. Since 1982 the military has imposed restrictions on their rights to travel, work, marry, study, vote, or even leave the state. Many Rohingya have reported being raped and tortured, and many have witnessed the deaths of family and friends by the Myanmar military.
In 2012 violence erupted and the Rohingya were killed and buried in mass graves. Their cities were razed, displacing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims. Human Rights Watch accused the government of ethnic cleansing in 2013. The violence continued and in October 2016, nine border guards were killed. The attacks were blamed on the Rohingya and the military swarmed into Rakhine committing arson, rape, and murder. The following November, the UN accused Myanmar of human rights abuses and furthered the previous accusations of ethnic cleansing. In October 2017, William, Lacy Swing, director of the International Organization for Migration has referred to the crisis as the “World’s biggest humanitarian disaster.
Since August 2017, over a half a million Rohingya refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Hundreds have died during the mass exodus. Most of the victims, many of whom were children, drowned when overloaded boats capsized. On October 14, 2017, four refugees were trampled to death by wild elephants in Bangladesh. Many more Rohingya will die in refugee camps due to starvation and lack of basic sanitation or potable water. Over 2,000 Muslims per day arrive at the camps, sadly it is impossible for Bangladesh to keep up with the demands.
Around the world leaders are calling for action; the UN has officially condemned the genocide, millions of dollars in aid have poured in from all over the globe, and US president Donald Trump has promised “swift action” against Myanmar. Yet the crisis grows worse by the day. Despite increasing public condemnation and forceful campaigns against the rogue nation, it is unlikely that any country will take action. So far, no country save for Bangladesh, has offered tangible help to the Rohingya. This will be a real problem as the Bangladeshi government is running out of resources to help the refugees. In the meantime the Rohingya people will remain without a land, without a home, and at least for now, without hope.
© 2017 Anna Watson
Anon on November 16, 2017:
I read in the papers last week that Burma is marching in support of the military. No shame
Kim H on October 19, 2017:
G.Cole on October 16, 2017:
So sad that this is happening. But, I'm afraid that genocide is nithing new. Seems we get a hankering for it every couple of decades