Policy, Social Justice

4 questions about the Rohingya refugee crisis you were too embarrassed to ask

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee from their homes in Myanmar. But who are the Rohingya?

1. Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya Muslims are an ethnoreligious group who have lived in Myanmar for generations. There are currently about 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar who speak their own language and practice their own culture. Despite having resided in the majority Buddhist country for generations, Myanmar denies the Rohingya Muslims citizenship.

The oppression of the Rohingya, however, is not new. In 1962 when the military government took control all citizens were required to have national registration cards. The Rohingya were given foreign identity cards. These foreign identity cards prevented the Rohingya from getting jobs, attending schools, and owning land.

2. What’s happening now?

[Image description: Rohingya people walking on a dirt road and sitting on the side of the road in Myanmar.] Wikimedia.org

In October 2016, nine border police were killed and the government blamed the Rohingya. Many officials have called the Rohingya “terrorists” and the government began a security crackdown in majority-Rohingya villages. The human rights abuses the government has committed against the Rohingya include extrajudicial killings, the rape and abuse women and girls, and the burning of Rohingya homes and crop fields. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the month after the violence began. In November 2016, a UN official accused Myanmar of ethnically cleansing the Rohingya.

The violence against the Rohingya has prompted many to flee Myanmar to neighboring countries and primarily Bangladesh. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), since August 2017 over 647,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. The largest refugee camp is Kutupalong in Bangladesh but with the influx of so many refugees, camps are springing up in the surrounding countryside. And the Bangladesh government alongside international organizations and humanitarian groups, are trying to build other makeshift camps to accommodate the massive wave of migrants.

3. Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

[Image description: Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.] Wikimedia.org

Aung San Suu Kyi was one the first women of color to win The Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 (Mother Teresa won it 1979). Aung San Suu Kyi ran against the military government in the Burmese elections gaining 81% of the vote, yet the military government refused to hand over power. She and was forced to live under house arrest for nearly 20 years. She was given the award for her “nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.” She remains a prominent leader in Myanmar and is a global figure for human rights and democracy.

Yet now amidst the Rohingya crisis in her country, she remains silent. Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to speak out against the oppression and human rights abuses committed against Rohingya. Many have condemned her silence saying that she displays a “one-sided humanitarian passion”.

[Image description: two barefoot, young Rohingya girls crouching in the mud.] Wikimedia.org

4. How can I help?

There are three primary ways to help: giving money, spreading the word, and calling your elected officials. Organizations like BRAC, UNHCR, the International Rescue Commission, and others are employing Rohingya and providing humanitarian aid. This issue is enormous, but not always very talked about. By spreading the word and bringing awareness to the issue, hopefully, more people will be able to help. Lastly, call your elected officials. Recently Senator John McCain and actress and filmmaker, Angelina Jolie, wrote a piece together on four ways the U.S. would better serve the Rohingya’s during this crisis.

If you call your elected officials, they, in turn, can vote for and enact better policies to help the Rohingya.