It’s time to pay attention to Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people

It’s time to pay attention to Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people

Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters 

Myanmar government forces, under Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, are committing genocide against the country’s ethnic Rohingya minority group, the majority of whom are Muslim. The government of Myanmar claims these are “clearance operations” in retaliation for attacks by an insurgent terrorist military group that attacked police outposts, even though experts have found that the insurgents are few in number and poorly equipped.

The United Nations has called the government of Myanmar’s actions “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” International investigators and reporters have gathered evidence and heard stories of entire villages being burned to the ground, women being gang-raped, and soldiers shooting at Rohingya as they attempt to flee violence. Over half a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape state violence since August 25.

Right-wing media outlets are portraying this expulsion of the Rohingya as a “refugee crisis,” accusing the Rohingya of posing “a serious security threat” and even trying to justify the government violence as a response to what they refer to as “Islamic terrorism.” But in trying to justify the government’s violent and horrific actions by claiming it’s just a response to terrorism, thI thinkey are ignoring decades of oppression inflicted by the Myanmar state.

The Rohingya are a stateless minority in Myanmar's Rakhine state; they are not a nationally recognized ethnic group and are not considered citizens of the majority-Buddhist Myanmar. As a result, the Rohingya are systematically barred from jobs, education, medical care, free worship, and open travel, in part due to reactionary ethnic nationalism laws put in place by the military regime that followed British colonialist rule. State laws restrict Rohingya families to two children, with those who break the law imprisoned and their children put on a blacklist. They’re not recognized as citizens, but rather seen as outsiders or intruders, even though many have lived in Myanmar their entire lives.

Nobel Peace Prize winner and de facto civilian Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to denounce her government’s role in, and denied allegations of, ethnic cleansing, despite considerable evidence. She has been long been criticized for her anti-Muslim remarks and outright erasure of the plight of the Rohingya. Her fellow Nobel laureates are condemning her silence, and the Oxford City Council has withdrawn its “Freedom of Oxford” awards.

The state-sponsored violence targeting the Rohingya has only gotten worse. It’s time to pay attention or the world will continue to miss the telltale signs of genocide.

Resources for how to help the Rohingya (list via The New York Times):

BRAC, a group founded in Bangladesh, was ranked the No. 1 nongovernmental organization in the world by NGO Advisor, which cited its adaptive approaches and strong community presence. Of the 350 staff members directly serving the refugee population in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, many are locals who speak a dialect similar to that of the Rohingya in Rakhine State. BRAC has built thousands of latrines, hundreds of tube wells and more than 50 child-friendly spaces and emergency health clinics that see thousands of children and patients every day, according to Emily Coppel and Matt Kertman, spokespersons for the group.

Action Against Hunger is responding to the Rohingya crisis with hundreds of full-time staff members on the ground in Bangladesh, delivering hot meals and water, according to Elizabeth Wright, a spokeswoman for the group. Health workers are treating malnourished children, while mental health counselors are providing support to refugees suffering from acute stress and trauma. Having been in Bangladesh since 2007, Action Against Hunger is partnering with many local organizations and international groups in distributing food and water.

Unicef is prioritizing shelter, food and water in its efforts to protect children and women, according to Jean-Jacques Simon, Unicef’s communications chief in Bangladesh. In addition to distributing water daily, the group has plans to install water pumps and deep tube wells in the camps. Malnourished children are receiving therapeutic food and supplements. In a news release on Sept. 17, the group also announced plans to vaccinate 150,000 children against measles, rubella and polio.

Save the Children has been working in Bangladesh since 1970. In addition to distributing essentials like tents, cooking kits and hygiene kits to the displaced Rohingya, Save the Children is paying special attention to helping children, particularly those who are not accompanied by family members. It says 45 staff members are currently dedicated to the Rohingya response. The number of staff and local partners could be increased to 780 by the end of the year to support long-term aid for these refugees, according to Evan Schuurman, a spokesman for the group.

Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières) has worked in Bangladesh since 1985. At least 300 staff members are in Cox’s Bazar, treating ailments including severe dehydration, diarrheal diseases, violence-related injuries and cases of sexual violence, according to the group.

The International Rescue Committee is helping the Rohingya remaining in Rakhine, with 400 staff members and volunteers providing medical care and emergency relief. Sanna Johnson, the group’s regional director for Asia, says its operations are complicated by restrictions from Myanmar’s government, which has banned international nongovernmental organizations from some areas of the state.

UNHCR, the refugee agency for the United Nations has been working with Rohingya migrants since 1978. Of the UNHCR staff members responding to the most recent crisis, about 150 are in Bangladesh and nearly 30 are in Myanmar, according to Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, an emergency response coordinator. In addition to distributing emergency aid and shelter materials, the group gives protection and support to unaccompanied children, the elderly and survivors of rape and trauma.

World Food Program is a United Nations agency that has been distributing high-energy biscuits to migrants as they have arrived in Bangladesh. It will continue to address food scarcity through subsidies in rice and nutritional powder. As of the end of September, 26 staff members were working with NGO partners and support staff in Cox’s Bazar, according to a spokeswoman, Silke Buhr.

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