Voice The Rohingya Petition

Despite the welcome changes which are afoot in Burma, great progress still needs to be made in addressing the suffering of the country’s ethnic minorities. The regime may well assume that the eyes of the world will be refocused on other countries but for that very reason, and more than ever before, we need to see clearly and speak out on behalf of groups such as the Rohingya and the Karen until they are given the same rights as every other citizen of Burma.

Lord David Alton, House of Lords, London SW1A OPW

I am horrified by the atrocities in Arakan state and the vicious and relentless attempted ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people there, and I support efforts to raise the matter up the agenda of the international community, particularly in the UN Human Rights Council.

Lord Eric Avebury, House of Lords, LONDON SW1A 0PW

I share your concerns about the situation in Rakhine State and agree the importance of raising awareness of the situation there. The UK government has long been one of the strongest supporters of democracy & human rights in Burma. We have also consistently raised the plight of the Rohingya with government and at international fora for many years when others were silent. During their respective visits to Burma, the International Development Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister all met with representatives of ethnic communities in Burma, including the Rohingya to hear their concerns first hand. In response to the recent violence, we have called for the government to allow unhindered humanitarian access to the area affected, to resolve the issue of nationality and to grant the full respect for human rights to all the people of Burma, notably the Rohingya.

Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State for International Development

Thank you for contacting me regarding the situation in Burma and particularly the persecution of the Rohyinga Muslims. In April this year MEPs adopted a Resolution on the situation in Burma/Myanmar, which under point 10 'calls for changes to the 1982 law on citizenship to ensure due recognition of the right to citizenship of the Rohingya ethnic minority'. The European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response is also monitoring the situation and her department has allocated EUR 10 million in 2012 benefiting both Rohingyas and other communities in need in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Sarah Ludford MEP, Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman

#RememberRohingya was the tweet that was retweeted in its hundreds over the last few days as RestlessBeings continue to push the Rohingya campaign as far and wide as possible. The community is described as the world's most persecuted and oppressed; the UN refers to them as the Roma or Palestinians of East Asia. With recent waves of hatred from Burmese bloggers who brand them "dogs, thieves, terrorists" and "black monsters", which is the results of years and years of some of the worst human rights abuses, the Rohingya are a community whose struggles have truly gone unnoticed and uncovered by the mainstream media and international community... until now.

Recent clashes between the Muslim Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists in western Burma officially many dead, and many more injured. However NGOs fear the true toll is far higher. With villages burnt, men abducted and forced to stay in concentration camps, women raped and killed and children sliced and killed in front of their parents, the massacre is surreal and can be likened to some of the world's most atrocious genocides. The military junta has joined forces with the Rakhine making this one of the hardest human rights issues to tackle. It is of great sadness that these ethnic clashes, although often justified under religious tensions, have roots in greater political and economical structures and agendas. As with many situations of this nature, the tools such as identity have been utilised to ethnic cleanse. The Rohingya are Burmese, but Burma simply treats them as illegal immigrants, denying them citizenship. There are reckoned to be about over 120,000 in Rakhine state, especially close to the border with Bangladesh, where many found refuge from past repression, particularly in 1978 and 1991-92. Hundreds of thousands live in camps in Bangladesh. Now Bangladeshi border police are turning them back. In 1982 a law classified them as stateless. Under the military junta they were prime targets of persecution, subjected to forced labour, their land confiscated, they are not able to marry of have children without state permission which can take almost 4 years and result with a rejection. Many are killed and forced to flee to save their lives.

RESTLESS BEINGS PROTEST 2 JULY 2012

For almost 3 years, Restless Beings has been writing, filming and spending time with the Rohingya community both in the refugee camps in Bangladesh and in the UK. We have been championing the rights of the Rohingya, but with recent issues and the deaths of hundreds of innocent Rohingyan men, women and children, we have taken it upon us to lead the campaign and become the voice of this oppressed community in the UK and echo it on an international platform.

Last week, we composed a letter to the Bangladesh government, asking them to open borders in and provide refuge to the Rohingyans who are now stranded in rickety boats in the River Naf (Between Bangladesh and Burma). This letter was addressed to the High Commissioner of the Bangladesh Embassy in London and was coupled with a petition.

With your support, in the space of 5 days, we have 2,640 signatures from over 90 countries from as far as Ecuador, Malaysia, China, India and New Zealand and Iceland.

The international community is pleading for Bangladesh to open borders, for Burma to give its people citizenship and accept that the Rohingya are Burmese, and grant them citizenship, and for the mainstream press to cover their plight. Armed with your signatures of support, today we held a protest outside the Bangladesh embassy at 3pm until 6pm.

With the weather in London being unpredictable as always, 60 passionate protestors arrived armed with banners, and other signs of support. The Rohingya leaders from a number of organisations, alongside women and children and university student from the British Rohingya community as well as other ethnicities from across the country, arrived to show their solidarity.

We requested for the Bangladesh embassy to give us a statement, however, they declined and did not comment on the issue or the protest either. Tun Khin, Nurul Islam and Abjol Miah all delivered speeches (Rohingya and British Bangladesh community leaders) alongside other young activists from the public as well as RestlessBeings team members. Every word uttered was a peaceful demand for the government to wake up and realise that on a very humane level, opening borders, despite its overpopulated country and stretched resources, is the best and most compassionate thing the country can do right now with the disgusting violence and torture the Rohingya are facing in the state of Arakan (West Burma).

At 4.45pm, directors of RestlessBeings handed in the letter to the embassy and a copy of all the petition signatures, after some time, we were informed that it would be treated as a matter of urgency and sent to the Bangladesh govt today. This was the first of many milestones in ensuring our voice of support for this oppressed community was heard, and it was heard loud and clear.

Despite the weather, and voices breaking after chants of 'Open, Border' and 'Free Free Rohingya', the crowd stayed till the end and left with an optimistic spirit, that enough little steps and pressure, we can demand some form of change.

The protest ended today with a simple note delivered by RestlessBeings directors, and that was of one of peace and unity at a time of human crisis. This is not problem for Bangladeshis, or Burmese or Muslims or Buddhists to solve. This isn't even an issue about Asia that only the Asian's should address. This isn't an issue that can be ignored and left to the leaders to address and the UN to clean up... this is an issue of the oppression and rape of the basic human right: the right to be able to call a piece of land a home, the right to say with chest held high and citizenship papers in place, that you are of a particular identity, the right to belong. This is one of the worst cases of human rights abuses and we must, as human beings, act and do everything we can to address and challenge those who are committing such crimes on a community who just want to be able to call their country (Burma), where their forefathers have lived for hundreds of years, a home.

The protest was a success and marked the beginning of the next few weeks where we will be delivering our intense pressure strategy to mobilise as many community leaders, MPs, Bloggers, Activists, Artists, Organisations and International Leaders to show their support for this community and join us in a direct demand for change.

So what now?

This week will see the launch of another petition, this time, it will outline how Burma is not in acting in accordance with the articles mentioned in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, making this issue a breach of international human rights. It will also appeal to the UK to provide and oversee the safe passage of aid and humanitarian relief. Following this, we will be protesting during the opening ceremony of the Olympics in London, followed by active MEP lobbying. This is the 3 point strategy which will take place over the coming month.

We need your support more than ever before. Doing nothing, is not an option. And silence is just another form of ignorance and siding with the oppressors. We must act, we must voice our support, and we must challenge the ruthless systems set up to weaken and cleanse a country of its people simply because of the colour of their skin and the faith they follow.

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