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Plight of the Rohingya - Unwanted and Forgotten

Updated on June 27, 2013

The minority group you belong to, no longer is recognized by the state, your history, ancestry does not exist in the eyes of the state. You will be either sent to another country, or looked after by an international organization. You no longer belong to the country your people have lived in for hundreds of years. You have no rights, no property, and no say. This is the exact sentiments outlined recently in a speech by current Burma President Thein Sein, yet these words were not globally heard. Welcome to the world of the Rohingya, also known as, the world’s most forgotten people.

The Rohingya people were the original inhabitants of the Rakhine region prior to the annex in 1700, which brought them under Burmese rule. Conflict between the extremist Burmese and Rohingya have come and gone throughout the decades with only intermittent times of non-violence. This smoldering sectarian tension between the parties not interested in peace, or a resolution, eventually erupted in cataclysmic devastation in June 2012. In May 2012 a Buddhist woman was raped and murdered, 3 Muslim men were charged by the state, and a week later 10 men were murdered in a revenge killing. The events which proceeded were hidden from the world. The Burmese security forces known as “Nasaka” were recorded by news sources such as Al Jazeera, as shooting to kill. Riots in the streets broke out as houses were torched. These riots would now be known as the 2012 Rakhine State riots. The clamp down by the Nasaka forces and anti Rohingya, was brutal. Eye witness accounts, reported by media outlets such as Al Jazeera, have claimed widespread rape, torture, confiscation of property, arbitrary detention, and summary executions. Fast forward to August 2012 and the casualty count had climbed to over 80 with deaths on both sides. This number is hard to verify as bodies were moved by authorities and secretly buried.

This conflict has left the Rohingya with no other choice but to find refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. According to the United Nations in 2012 800,000 Rohingya remain in Burma. Today, 300,000 have risked life and limb to escape persecution, imprisonment and death to refugee camps in Bangladesh, where life is no better. These makeshift camps along the Bangladeshi-Burma boarder are not set up by the Bangladesh government and are not acknowledged. Officially, they are not tolerated and recognized. It is nearly impossible to film and send aid to these camps, because local aid agencies fear having the Rohingya kicked out of the camps, and shutting down the aid. Life in these camps are torturous, the Rhoingya are not allowed to work, go to school, or seek medical care. Food and aid is very scarce and they get by only by selling what they can, that includes themselves. Young girls have to result to selling sex, disease is rampant from lack of sanitation, and overall protection.

Analysis of this conflict is hard to comprehend, especially when Bangladesh refused the $33 million dollar for program assistance from the UN. The thought of an even more serious agenda surfaces. A term like genocide is usually reserved for the categorical and systematic extermination of a race. However, I will argue the definition can be stretched in circumstances where measures are being taken to prevent births of a certain minority group, denial of basic human alienable rights, denial of history, and land, a term like genocide is not unimaginable.

The conflict remains ongoing, and there is ever growing international discussion on the plight of the Rohingya. The plight is slowly making its way to mainstream news sources. As of March 2013 there are reports of further killing and riots in the western province of Burma. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both issued statements calling for Burma to take action to protect the Rohingya Muslims against extremist Buddhists. One can only hope the international community will intervene and spread the fact that human life is sacred and precious, and we are all equally humans whether we act like it or not.

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