Saturday, June 21, 2014

Today is World Refugee Day—remember the Rohingya

The majority of the world's refugees live in Asia and Somalia.  The Rohingya from the Rakhine state in Myanmar are among those in the most peril; they have been denied citizenship in their own country and neighboring countries are reluctant to take them in.  They languish in ill-run camps in Myanmar that resemble prisons, with little food, medical care, or freedom of movement.  The UN has issued a series of 30 goodwill videos from celebrity spokespeople urging everyone to assist refugees worldwide in whatever way they can.

There is no celebrity championing the Rohingya.

Please do not forget them.

Excerpts from “Unresolved conflicts leading to prolonged displacement”
Addressing the origins of persecution and statelessness
Stina Ljungdell
June 20, 2014

In the Rakhine State of Myanmar, about 140,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in the aftermath of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The majority of them are the Rohingya, with smaller numbers of Rakhine, Kaman and other ethnicities. Most of the Rohingya are living in temporary camps and shelters with restriction on their freedom of movement and a lack of basic healthcare. Reports suggest that they are subjected to different forms of extortion, forced labour and arbitrary taxation including financial restrictions on marriage.

Under the Burma Citizenship Act of 1982, Myanmar has granted citizenship to 135 different ethnic groups, but not the Rohingya. Instead the Rohingya population remains stateless and the Myanmar government constantly reaffirms that this group is not welcome in Myanmar. Therefore, the plight of the Rohingya is twofold -- they are subjected to serious human rights violations and they are also stateless.

Given this situation, thousands of Rohingya have continued to flee Myanmar and sought safety elsewhere. Abuse and exploitation are common along the way and many lose their lives at sea. A statement published by UNHCR last week shows that an estimated 86,000 people, mostly Rohingya, have sailed on boats since June 2012. More than 1,300 have died on the journey and hundreds have been ill-treated in overcrowded camps run by traffickers and people smugglers.

The conflict in Rakhine State in Myanmar has given rise to a regional problem that now spans across Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India. UNHCR is advocating for these host countries to grant the Rohingya temporary stay arrangements until the situation stabilises sufficiently in Rakhine State for them to return.

Although UNHCR can alleviate the suffering of displaced populations, it takes political decisions to resolve the root causes of conflicts and achieve peaceful co-existence of communities. On this World Refugee Day, let us all urge the international community to pave the way for a peaceful solution which will allow the Rohingya to finally return to the society that they were once part of.  

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