21st Century Genocide: The Rohingya Crisis

Nur Ayesha, a 30-year-old mother of two, recounts to a CNN reporter the day that her nightmare became a harsh reality:

“We used to live in a big house beside a lake where my husband would go fishing. I was very happy there. I have two children and another one on the way. Two weeks before the crisis, a bomb exploded near our village. We knew the military would come to the village to find the culprits, so the men went to the lake to hide.

No one helped me build a shelter for my family, even though I am pregnant.

I have not seen my husband since. He had no connection to the ARSA [Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army] but because of them, he had to run away. And because of them, he is probably dead.

Once the crisis started, the military returned to the village. They burned down my house and shot my two cows. With my husband gone, my only option was to come here to Bangladesh. I sold my jewelery and paid someone to take my family across the border. We were walking for five days; my feet were so swollen. I am finding life here very difficult on my own. No one helped me build a shelter for my family, even though I am pregnant.”

Nur Ayesha with her two kids in a refugee camp in Bangladesh (Kate Arnold for CNN).

What type of world am I bringing my child into?”   

Nur Ayesha is bringing her child into a world where her friends and family are being hunted by the wolves of the Burmese government.

Nur Ayesha is a Rohingya.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar who live predominantly in Rakhine State, anxiously coexisting with the Buddhist majority. Descendants of Persian and Arab traders who settled in Myanmar, the Rohingya are described by The Guardian as the world’s most persecuted people.

Their grave struggle started with the 1948 Union Citizenship Act which defined Myanmar citizenship and identified the indigenous races of Burma as groups that were allowed to claim citizenship. Although the Rohingya people were not included in the said act, the law allowed people whose family had lived for two generations in Burma to apply. 

After the military coup in 1962, the government started to refuse to recognize new generations of the Rohingya population.

There have been many efforts to oppress the Rohingya population including rape, murder, forced labour, marriage restrictions, and religious persecution

In 1974, Myanmar began requiring citizens to obtain National Registration Cards, but only provided the Rohingya with Foreign Registration Cards. This set back the Rohingya in terms of educational and job opportunities, as many schools and employers did not recognize FRCs. In 1982, a new law was implemented that prohibited the Rohingya from obtaining citizenship. According to this law, in order to be a citizen, there had to be proof that a person’s family had lived in Myanmar since or before 1948. Since many Rohingya lack their family’s historical records, it was basically impossible for them to obtain citizenship.  Naturalization as well requires a fluency in one of Myanmar’s national languages, but, with their limited access to education, the Rohingya don’t have the resources either for naturalization.

Since then, there have been many efforts to oppress the Rohingya population such as rape, murder, forced labour, marriage restrictions, and religious persecution (International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School).

In fact, government newspapers used the term “Muslim Kala” to describe the Rohingya which translates to Black Muslims, a derogatory term for South Asians. They also refuse to use the term Rohingya and instead refer to these people as Bengali. This has resulted in immense violence in Rakhine State from both the Rohingya and the Rakhine people.  

Buddhists protest the use of the word “Rohingya” in Yangon, Myanmar on February 9th 2017. (Lauren DeCicca and Franco Origlia/Getty Images). 

Sadly, current Burmese officials use this past violence as justification for current attacks on the Rohingya population. Nonetheless, the United Nations has investigated the situation using interviews and documents based on multiple visits to Bangladesh and other countries without Myanmar’s cooperation. A panel is said to present these findings to the Human Rights Council in September. This panel is most likely going to increase pressure for immediate action from international parties (Nick Cumming-Bruce, The New York Times).

The classic question, ‘what fuels this hatred?’ has one answer: it is based on racial differences, as the Rohingya resemble and share similar cultural characteristics with Bangladeshis, hence the government calls them Bengali. These cultural differences have divided the country’s population to a point where not a single person is willing to stand up for the Rohingya (Shashank Bengali, The Los Angeles Times). The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is not helping the situation either. According to the Asia Times, out of the 10 members, only Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have even made the effort to provide shelter for the Rohingya.

A Rohingya girl who arrived in Bangladesh on September 7th 2017. (K M Asad—AFP/Getty Images).

As a matter of fact, not a single head of state has ever visited any of the refugee camps in Bangladesh with the sole exception of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

When my uncle, a Yangon resident who wishes to remain anonymous, was interviewed, he revealed the general consensus of how the Burmese feel. While he is not Burmese, he has been living in Myanmar for almost seven years now, so he is knowledgeable of the country’s feelings.

There’s no one in the entire country of Myanmar who would stand up for the Rohingya.

He revealed that the press in Myanmar is one-sided, controlled by the military, and every day an article is published berating the Rohingya regardless of whether any conflict has occurred or not.  He claimed that “it’s basically propaganda to an extent.” He also admitted that his company cannot hire anyone who is either Rohingya or is of Rohingya descent due to the backlash the company would receive. My uncle then went on to say that he agrees with the United Nations who have declared it as genocide and that there’s no one in the entire country of Myanmar who would stand up for the Rohingya. He believes that the real issue is the fact that the Rohingya are Muslim and not Buddhist like the rest of the population.

To be honest, the future for the Rohingya seems bleak. They have essentially become stateless and face persecution daily whether newspapers talk about it or not. It has come to a point where, outside of Myanmar, they aren’t really discussed. Their situation deeply resembles the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 where a minority ethnic group, the Tutsi, was attacked by the majority ethnic group, the Hutu. This genocide had a lot of support from the government which is why there was little to no backlash from the Rwandan officials. In addition, the UN was not able to help the situation. Many of you reading must be thinking, “How does this affect me?” Well, as people who can afford such a lavish lifestyle, I believe that we owe it to humanity to stand up for people in danger. How can we let an entire ethnic group be eradicated as if it were a simple disease? Whilst we ourselves cannot go to Myanmar and plead with the government (it would only fall on deaf ears), we can do whatever it is in our power to advocate for the Rohingya and hope that Myanmar will realise that they are murdering innocent people who have done nothing wrong.

If you would like to help out the Rohingya crisis, you can donate to Islamic Relief Worldwide at this link: Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Author: Rhea Malhotra

Rhea Malhotra is currently a senior, and this is her first year writing for The Eye. She was born in Hong Kong and moved to Singapore at the start of freshman year. In her free time, she enjoys watching various romcoms, eating hot Cheetos with chopsticks, shopping, and cuddling with her dog. She can be contacted at malhotra47884@sas.edu.sg

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