We must not turn away from those in need. Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The plight of the Rohingyas should be in the spotlight even more so with it being World Refugee Day. However, whilst millions pay tribute to refugees around the world, what is being done about the persecution of the Rohingya? Despite the theme for 2012 being 'Refugees have no choice. You do.' the international response has been slow and too safely guarded, despite the calls for action.
Since the clash between the Rakhines and the Rohingyas surfaced 3 weeks ago, it has shown no signs of improvement let alone ending; the violence ferociously continues as its estimated over 6000 Rohingya people have died with cases of deaths every day of both Rakhine and Rohingya, 12,000 displaced and an immeasurable amount of homes still continue to be burned down (though according to the Rohingya Blogger, it has stopped in the Sittwe and Maungdaw township). The Nasaka, the Bumese Border Force, are left to their own devices under the rubric of National security, they have had a long run in their part in making the lives of the Rohingya a living hell. However, their crimes have taken a new height since these clashes began, aiming to systematically rid the Rohingya and make them leave Arakan, a plan which had succeeded in 1992 when a similar incident resulted in the mass exodus of the Rohingya.
Despite this, there is still no sign of relief across the border as Bangladesh still refuses to help the Rohingyas by forcibly pushing back those who want to escape the tyranny. Even as close neighbours, the Bangladesh government are refusing to recognise the grave consequences their actions have. For the Rohingya’s who have managed to cross the border to Bangladesh in recent years the majority face a bleak future. Seen as a burden to an already densely populated country, viewed as immigrants speaking a similar but still different language to the Bangladeshis, and being denied humanitarian aid, forces Rohingya refugees into dire avenues.
Our Restless Beings director Mabrur, visited the Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Bangladesh in 2011 where an estimated 26,000 (2010 report) Rohingya are 'living' with a further 90,000 on the other side of the refugee camp perimeter fence. The camp was filled with an air worse than desperation- the faces of the refugees faces just blank, just surviving another day. The Rohingya women are victims of sexual violence, chidlren are denied education and there is limited access to health and medical aid. They live harassed, not being allowed to conceive and so just wait, restricted in the camp, to die. It's a stark reality that despite fleeing from hellish torment in Burma that they face a fate rarely better in Bangladesh as refugees.
In the midst of the clashes, Aung Saan Suu Kyi, who is seen as a beacon of hope to the Rohingyas, embarked on her European tour and yesterday paid a visit to the London School of Economics for a discussion on "Rule of Law". She has avoided the subject of the clash between the ethnic groups, even though it is the support of of the ethnic groups which is at the core of her prominence today. At the LSE conference she did mention and acknowledged the current state of affairs and the violence occurring on both sides, but somewhat sugar coated her outlook on the situation, placing the importance of Law being known by everyone is the way forward for Burma - “Resolving conflict is not about condemnation, it’s about finding the roots, the causes of that conflict and how they can be resolved in the best way possible”. However the law can only be effective and seen to be important when all the people concerned are recognised by the Law and the state in the first instance. Without this initial step, which the Rohingyas have campaigned for, little progress can be made.
Instead, their underlying struggles, even amidst the recent civil violence from both the Rakhines and Rohingya - none of which can be condoned, will continue largely unnoticed. On a day which is dedicated to the remembrance of refugees, it is important that these initial violations against the Rohingya do not go unnoticed and that the international community hold the Burmese state accountable.
Even after World Refugee Day and after Refugee Week this Friday, we must continue to champion and voice the Rohingyas. The smallest deed of dedicating your facebook status, or tweeting #Rohingya brings their struggle to light.