“This is just the most extraordinary scene. We’ve been hearing about this boat for the last four or five days through very, very occasional phone calls that have gone out, telling of their desperate plight. Nobody knew where they were, we’ve been searching for a long time … now we’ve found it.”
Jonathan Head of the BBC is referring to an abandoned ship filled to the brim with hundreds of Rohingya refugees, extremely malnourished and cast adrift by their crew. These people risked everything in order to escape the persecution that afflicts the Rohingya in Myanmar. Some argue amounts the crimes committed against the Rohingya amount to genocide.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group living in the Myanmar state of Rakhine, a small region bordering Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. The exact origins of the Rohingya are unknown, but can be traced to two distinct waves of Muslim Bengali migration into the region.
During the Second World War, ethnic Muslims in Rakhine were trained by British soldiers to combat pro-Japanese Burmese. Tensions remained between the Rohingya and the Burmese after the War ended until conflict broke out in the 1950s.
The dire situation of the Rohingya intensified with the institution of the 1982 Citizenship Law, barring all Rohingya from being considered citizens. Instead, they were labeled as Bengali foreigners and deprived of many rights.
Since that time, the Myanmar government and certain radical Buddhist monks have pursued a ruthless strategy of segregation and systematic killing of Rohingya. Rohingya have been sectioned off into miserable ghettos, deprived the right to vote, proper health care, education, access to food and are even limited in how many children a family can have.
As a result hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had fled from Rakhine, desperately seeking to find a new home to replace the home that has forsaken them. It is estimated that 25,000 Rohingya have embarked on a treacherous journey by sea, boarding illegal smuggling boats in an attempt to seek refuge in Malaysia, Thailand, any country willing to receive them.
Unfortunately, even these countries do not want them either. Known as “the world’s least wanted”, the seafaring Rohingya are sometimes abandoned by the smuggling crews that were transporting them. They are left adrift to meet their fate on the open sea.
To make matters worse, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi does not consider the current situation in Rakhine to be ‘ethnic cleansing’. Suu Kyi claims that the outcry from the international community is exaggerated and unfounded. This detached attitude towards the Rohingya impairs any opportunity to relieved the suffering of the Rohingya
Over the next several weeks we will illustrate the desperate condition of the Rohingya, highlighting current events, relevant statistics and the personal stories of Rohingya refugees. Please check in every other week as we discuss the Rohingya refugee crisis. We also invite you to join us and call on Aung San Suu Kyi to stand up for the repressed Rohingya. After all, we supported her during her many years of fighting for human rights in Myanmar, and it is time for her to reciprocate.