Real Community Conversations

The Rohingya Crisis

Miltonians take action

Photo by Hafiz Johari.

Humanity is failing. There are inexplicable examples of human atrocities meted out on the less fortunate by interest groups whose agendas have no respect for human dignity and life. This year has been particularly horrible.

The Rohingya crisis dates back to 1982 when the Rohingya people were unable to obtain “citizenship by birth” status in Myanmar because the Citizenship Law did not include the Rohingya on the list of 135 recognized national ethnic groups.

In mid-May 2015 international media reports began surfacing about the critical situation involving an estimated 6,000–7,000 migrants and refugees, primarily Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh, who were crowded into boats that were drifting off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia; the governments of those countries denied the migrants and refugees disembarkation and pushed the vessels back to the open sea. The Rohingya had been undertaking such perilous journeys to escape deplorable conditions in Myanmar (and Bangladesh) for more than a decade, though longtime observers had noted dramatic increases in the number of migrants leaving Myanmar over the previous three years. (1)

The crisis continues to escalate.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority and almost 1.1 million of them reside in the Buddhist majority country of Myanmar. Almost all of them live in the western coastal state of Rakhine under strict government regulations and in camps that lack even the basic necessities of life like clean water and electricity. (3)

The humanitarian situation in parts of Bangladesh sheltering hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees continues to deteriorate, making the crisis one of the fastest growing refugee crises of recent years, according to the United Nations.

The United Nations human rights chief, earlier this week, lashed out at the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar which has led to more than 300,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh in the past three weeks, as security forces and local militia reportedly burn villages and shoot civilians. The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, noting that the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed since Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators. He cited reports of Myanmar authorities laying landmines along the border with Bangladesh and requiring returnees to provide “proof of nationality,” an impossibility given that successive Myanmar governments have since 1962 progressively stripped the Rohingya population of their political and civil rights, including citizenship rights.

“[The crisis is] creating enormous humanitarian needs in an area of Bangladesh already affected by earlier refugee influxes, recent floods and not equipped to cope with large numbers of new arrivals,” Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told journalists at a media briefing in Geneva on September 15, 2017. (2)

Thousands of Rohingya refugees have been entering neighbouring Bangladesh since the latest crisis erupted after Rohingya militants reportedly killed a number of Myanmar security officials last month. According to the UNHCR, around 270,000 Rohingya have crossed the border after going through dangerous journeys in poorly constructed boats many of which have capsized, killing thousands. Disturbing reports of attacks on the Rohingya in Myanmar by the security forces as well as Buddhist mobs keep coming in with international media outlets reporting the torching of Muslim villages.

Their problems, however, do not end here. While many Rohingya have fled the immediate threat of violence in Myanmar, their situation in Bangladeshi refugee camps is only slightly better. There is an acute shortage of food and water in the refugee camps and the poor sanitary conditions forebode the threat of epidemics. UN aid agencies say that Burma continues to block the delivery of food, water and medicine to the Rohingya. (4)

This upsurge of violence and the Rohingyas’ miserable condition has sparked protests across the world, including in Milton.

Miltonians take action

September 10, 2017 – Milton, Canada: Miltonians attend the “We stand against Rohingya genocide” event hosted at the Milton Sports Centre. Photo by Sameera Ali.

Miltonian Maliha Khan Ahmed, in collaboration with The Burma Task Force, held a  vigil and prayer service at the Milton Leisure Centre on Sunday, September 10, 2017. Speaking about her motivation to hold the rally, Maliha Khan Ahmed highlighted the absence of commentary or action from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the First State Counsellor of Myanmar in this crisis. “As a woman, her silence shocks me! I highly doubt that she even read the UN human rights report [released in February 2017] on the treatment of the Rohingya. The report documents mass rape of women and girls, some of whom died as a result of the sexual injuries they suffered. It shows how children and adults had their throats slit in front of their families. How can Aung Suu Kyi turn a blind eye?!”

Ahmed Ramadan, coordinator for Burma Task Force Canada, a global nonprofit that has been advocating for the rights of the Rohingya people for the past five years spoke at the prayer service. “This crisis is on the Global stage now which means our work is even more important. We cannot ignore this anymore. Please call your respective government representative and let them know that you care about this. Let them know that this the time for Canada to take real action and find real solutions,” said Ramadan.

September 10, 2017 – Milton, Canada: Miltonians attend the “We stand against Rohingya genocide” event hosted at the Milton Sports Centre. Photo by Sameera Ali.

Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation [OSSTF] executive officer for District 30, David Sykes also spoke: “The OSSTF is a trade union and we have a strong track record for standing up for human rights. We are against violence against women and we have a strong social justice platform. We understand that the Rohingyan Genocide is a crisis issue and we’re calling upon the federal government to take action to lead the international community to stop the genocide. We implore the UN create a safe zone for those who are attempting to flee and uphold their human rights in the Myanmar region.”

How You Can Help

While Prime Minister Trudeau has already had talks with Aung San Su Kyi to take a strong stand in ending the violence against the Rohingya and Canada is providing $2.5M in urgent funding for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, a lot still needs to be done. You can help the Rohingya by:

  • Donating to aid groups supporting the Rohingya people
  • Writing to your local government representative to show your concern and demand action
  • Sharing your views and information about the Rohingya crisis. Use the hashtags #SaveRohingya and #Rohingya

Are you, your family or friends affected by the Rohingya crisis? Please let us know by sending an email to: editor@miltontalk.ca

 

Sources:

  1. UN.org
  2. Chan, Elaine. “The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar: Year In Review 2016.” Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.
  3. BBC.com
  4. Burma Task Force Canada