According to the United Nations refugee agency, almost 300,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh in just over a span of two weeks in order to escape the “cultural cleansing” currently ongoing in Myanmar. While addressing the situation, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing.” His frustration aimed directly at the Myanmar government, who has had a long history of conducting violence against the Rohingya people, a minority Muslim group living in the Southeast Asian country. Despite having a population of slightly over a million people, the Rohingya are not granted citizenship and are classified by the Myanmar government as illegal immigrants.
Myanmar, a country that is majority Buddhist has traditionally used religion as a way to alienate and marginalize the Rohingya, labelling them as “Muslim invaders.” When asked to justify their actions against the Muslim minority group, the government claims that it is acting to reduce the threat of terrorism from Rohingya militants. A former presidential advisor, Ko Ko Hlaing, explains that “we need to wipe out the threat of the terrorism in those regions.” However, many outside the Myanmar government see it differently, as many human rights organizations claim that the government is responsible for committing crimes against the minority. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come out strongly against the Myanmar government, accusing them of genocide. British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson has also recently stated his displeasure, but considering that Britain has sold military equipment to Myanmar and is currently giving Myanmar military training, his words carry very little weight and validity.
Unsurprisingly, the reports from the Myanmar government vary drastically from many eyewitness accounts. Abdul Rahman, a survivor of an attack from the government gave the following testimony: “My two nephews, their heads were off. One was six years old and the other was nine years old. My sister-in-law was shot with a gun.” While disturbing, his story is similar to thousands of others who have been directly affected by the conflict. Stories of the Myanmar government burning down villages, beheading civilians, raping women, and killing children are not uncommon. Along with the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing the country, the UN claims that over one thousand lives have been lost.
The government’s claims of performing an anti-terrorism campaigned significantly deviates from the truth. A large portion of concern now shifts to Bangladesh, a country hosting over 5 million Rohingya immigrants over the past years, which is now struggling to accommodate the most recent influx of refugees.
A resolution to the current humanitarian and refugee crisis in Myanmar seems far from reach. Due to decades of mistreatment, the Rohingya are literally and figuratively treated as foreigners in their homeland. Now, with Bangladesh stating that it cannot support all the Rohingya refugees on its own, a much stronger response from the international community is now needed to what may be an ongoing genocide.
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