By Lara Kajs
‘A textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ is what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the systematic abuse and violence being committed against the Rohingya.
Since August 2017, nearly seven hundred thousand (more than half the Rohingya population of Myanmar) have fled to Bangladesh, one of the few countries that will grant them sanctuary.
Targeted and terrorized for no other reason than their religion and minority status, this is not the first time there has been a mass exodus from Myanmar. There has been a pattern of ongoing abuse toward the Muslim Rohingya by Buddhist mobs, as well as government armed forces bridging many decades.
UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee has been investigating reports of entire villages burned to the ground, mass rape, torture and murder. Witness accounts point to the military as the perpetrators; however government officials vehemently deny all accounts.
Satellite imagery shows that at least two hundred eighty-eight villages have been burned out, while the Myanmar government refuses to act to stop this mass atrocity. Reports indicate that the razed villages were repeatedly targeted over time. As the government continues to deny their involvement, it suggests that the Rohingya are burning their own villages down, which makes no sense at all.
Additionally, reports indicate the government has shut down food markets and restricted the delivery of humanitarian aid. While the country’s highest ranking military officials have denied blocking aid deliveries and targeting civilians, the European Union and the UN have condemned the government and are considering enforcing sanctions against the country.
The oppression is never-ending. There are accounts of torture. The armed militia is accused of raping women and killing the men. Eye-witness testimony describes horrific details of the military firing on people as they tried to run away.
Myanmar has openly declared that it does not want the Rohingya in the country, but it also does not want the world to know the abuse the ethnic minority people have suffered at the hands of government forces. Reports suggest that government agents, namely the armed forces, have been laying land mines to prevent the Muslim Rohingya from fleeing across the border. Again, the government maintains it is not responsible and that these stories are exaggerated.
In an effort to escape slaughter, families fled with little more than the clothes on their backs and what they could carry. Thousands waded for days through waist-deep rivers and streams, engorged by monsoon rains. They carried children and balanced their few belongings on their heads or strapped to their backs.
Aid agencies in Bangladesh are trying to meet the refugee’s overwhelming needs. Although many locals in their host country (Bangladesh) have offered all the assistance they can provide, others have taken advantage of the dire need. Vendors raise the cost of materials to build housing (bamboo and plastic) and supplies nearly triple in price and boat operators charge amounts that rob the Rohingya of all they have to start over in Bangladesh. For the refugees who have made it to Bangladesh, they face overcrowded camps, unsanitary conditions and the risk of disease.
The magnitude of need is overwhelming. As humanitarian aid groups work feverishly to meet the need of more than a half million refugees in Bangladesh, the Rohingya continue to beg for food, beg for shelter, and beg for help.
In April 2018, the Myanmar government announced that it was ready to begin repatriation back to the country, a decision that has left rights groups both skeptical and terrified for the Rohingya. The UN has said that conditions in Myanmar are not “conducive for the safe return of the Rohingya.”
Most likely, the decision to repatriate the Rohingya is a public relations ruse to deflect attention from the human rights violations and ethnic cleansing being committed at the hands of the government. Of great concern is the suggestion that the return of refugees will give Myanmar a “pass” on its treatment of the Rohingya. Repatriation cannot grant impunity for the crimes that led to the refugees to flee in the first place. There has to be accountability for crimes committed against the Rohingya.
The Rohingya have been called the most persecuted people on the planet, however in a short span of time this crisis is becoming the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. With nowhere to go and few countries that will accept them, the Rohingya are losing hope.
Featured Image: Rohingya siblings feeling violence cross the Naf River along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)