Monday, October 27, 2014

It’s Open Season on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar . . . again

In this June 25 2014 file photo, Rohingya refugees gather to receive medicine at Dar Paing village clinic, north of Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. A growing sense of desperation is fueling a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar, with at least 8,000 members of the long-persecuted minority fleeing by boat in the last two weeks, according to residents and a leading expert. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

The world press woke up a bit from its nap on the Myanmar borders, and began reporting a couple of weeks ago on the recent surge in Muslims (predominantly Rohingya) fleeing persecution in Myanmar.  In the October 24th AP article Number of Rohingya Fleeing Myanmar Tops 100,000, it is not reported why there is a sudden increase, and the report also states that “It was not immediately clear where the newest arrivals were landing.”

Chris Lewa, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Arakan Project, said there has been a huge surge since Oct. 15, with an average of 900 people per day piling into cargo ships parked off Rakhine state.

 To give you an idea of the area we’re talking about, here’s a map of Myanmar, with Aceh province (Sumatra) to the south. (Medan is just south of the border of Aceh province.)

See Yangon?  Immediately to the west and up the coast is the Rakhine State, home to the majority of Rohingya in the country.  This is why many of them choose to flee by boat.
They cross the Andaman sea and travel about 1,000 miles to either the shores of Thailand, which is extremely close to the border of Myanmar and quite dangerous, or they continue on another 100 miles to Aceh Timur, on the north shore above Medan on that little lump. Aceh is the only place that has accepted Rohingya refugees unequivocally; still in 2009 when I went with JMD to set up and run the refugee camp there, life was very, very hard. The people of East Aceh themselves do not have enough to eat, and supplying extra food, clothes and medical supplies was a challenge  But I witnessed incredible examples of kindness as community members shared whatever they had with these men and boys.

The welcome is quite different for those landing in Thailand, “where passengers often are brought to jungle camps, facing extortion and beatings until relatives come up with enough money to win their release.”

So I am wondering if any of the recent 10,000 refugees have once again landed in Aceh. I will have to find out.

To recap briefly this sad and unbelievable story:
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million that only recently emerged from half a century of military rule, has an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya. Though many of their families arrived from neighboring Bangladesh generations ago, almost all have been denied citizenship. In the last two years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps, where they live without access, or the right, to adequate health care, education or jobs.

Ms Lewa reported that “there seems to be a growing sense of desperation this year, with numbers nearly double from the same period in 2013. . . . The United Nations has labeled the Rohingya one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world."

The treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar has always been, as I’ve reported, horrendous.  I began to wonder what recently has contributed to this “growing sense of desperation.”

The Week magazine, a synthesis of articles from the world’s best media outlets, reported on last week’s visit by Indian Prime Minister Modi to Washington.  While many papers gushed over Modi’s ability to “wow the Indian American audience” and have such an apparently cordial relationship with president Obama, other papers reminded readers of Modi’s “sickening” human rights abuses against Muslims and his promotion of Hindu nationalism, which  is "oppressive to India's many religious minorities." They noted that Obama chooses to ignore this leader’s human rights record because he “sees India as nothing more than a big-business opportunity."

I thought that sounded eerily similar to Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi, with her charm and promises of equality while at the same time ignoring further Rohingya abuses.  (see the May 2014 CNN article by Tim Hume, Aung San Suu Kyi's 'silence' on the Rohingya: Has 'The Lady' lost her voice? )

So the US (and other nations) won't do anything about the Rohingya because perhaps Myanmar is another "big-business opportunity." 

I hate to say this but I am pretty sure that the champagne corks popped in Myanmar when the Islamic State began its bloody terror campaigns In Iraq and Syria. Possibly ISIL's vilification on the world stage contributed to increasing persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.  That country knows that no one will come to the aid of the Rohingya when everyone is so furious with and horrified by a Muslim group, however far removed from that faux-ideology the Rohingya may be.

It’s not a great time to be a Muslim anywhere. . . and things for the Rohingya just got a whole lot worse.  If that’s even possible.

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