Lives shortened, dreams erased – words that hardly express the story of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, one of the most persecuted communities in the world according to the UN. A community which is a silent victim of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. They live in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and the Act of Law 1982 made the community ‘stateless’ – denying them citizenship and exposing them to discrimination, trafficking, torture and rape. Added to this, they are condemned as illegal immigrants in their homeland.
Land confiscation, forced labour and denial of basic human rights are some of the many crimes Rohingya Muslims are subjected to.With a negligible number of medical camps and educational facilities in the area, they occupy children who suffer from malnutrition and common outbreaks of TB. Girls as young as 14 are pushed into sex work to sell their bodies for a slice of bread.
In a choice between staying in their homeland and dying a slow painful death and risking their lives to start afresh in an alien land, many refugees choose the latter with thousands directed towards Malaysia and Bangladesh. Many fleeing the country have died in boats that aren’t suitable for sea and in the ocean of cold indifference shown by the governments as their deaths becomes a mere statistic. Never can one forget the picture of the young Syrian refugee boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose image shook the world making him a symbol of a much bigger human catastrophe, an image that shook the corridors of power in such a way that it went on to define the destiny of thousands of refugees. But looking at the way the international community has dealt with Rohingya Muslims, it is safe to assume that the image has been wipped off the temporary memories of the so-called world leaders.
Seen as less human by their fellow Burmese citizens and as a ‘burden’ by the residents of the country they seek refuge in, all the community seeks is basic respect and being treated with human dignity. Added to the horrendous ordeal they go through, they are left voiceless as the international media does not give the pressing issue significant attention thereby silencing their suffering.
Many people believe that the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sang Sui Kyi should directly condemn the outrageous statements made by Buddhist extremists whose words go on to incite violence against the Rohingyas. The international community should not be fence sitters on this issue but should put enormous pressure through soft power on the government of Myanmar to spread across the larger message that such discrimination has no place in a civilised society.
More awareness should spread to the general public as only knowing and acknowledging a problem will help in finding out an effective solution. Only when people condemn such violence and protest in different ways the treatment of fellow human beings in Rakhine can respective governments be forced to act. Keeping silent on this issue cannot take us forward as silence only emboldens these anti-social elements who think they cannot be challenged.