The unbearable suffering of the Rohingya people in Myanmar

Oct 31, 2017

In late August this year, anger at the entrenched and institutional discrimination and racist exclusion that the Rohingya people of Myanmar have been subjected to for decades spilt over into violence. Rohingya militants calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched an attack targeting several police stations and an army base in Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar leading to the death of 12 officials. The Myanmar Army’s response was fierce, launching a series of military operations to find what it claimed to be ‘terrorists hiding in the population.’ Reports suggest that soldiers entered villages, indiscriminately shooting, raping women and killing innocent civilians. After the surviving villages fled the military set fire to villages razing them to the ground. In just over three weeks, more than half a million Rohingya fled across the border into Bangladesh, the fastest refugee outflow since the Rwandan genocide. Thousands are still arriving on a daily basis and this is expected to continue as the Myanmar Government prevents almost all lifesaving aid deliveries from reaching affected areas in Northern Rakhine State. The world is now confronted with the chilling reality that more than half of the entire Rohingya population in Rakhine State (at least 800,000 people) has been removed from Myanmar in just eight weeks.

In Late September, and after much international criticism, the National League for Democracy’s Aung San Suu Kyi gave a speech to the nation about the humanitarian plight of the Rohingya people. During her half-hour speech Ms Suu Kyi did not refer to the ‘Rohingya’ as they are internationally known, referring to them as ‘Muslims’ of Rakhine State. She also failed to explicitly acknowledge the brutal military crackdown perpetrated by the Myanmar military. Her only reference was that since September 5 there had been “no armed clashes and have been no clearance operations” – a statement that contradicts the stories of many Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh. UN lawyers are now in the Bangladesh refugee camps documenting what is expected to be a case for war crimes. Amnesty International has now released documented eye-witness accounts of systematic human rights violations and abuses: “Myanmar’s security forces have brutally meted out revenge on the entire Rohingya population of northern Rakhine State, in an apparent attempt to permanently drive them out of the country. Exposing these heinous crimes is the first step on the long road to justice” says Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International.

During this speech, Aung San Suu Kyi also announced that the government was prepared to start the repatriation verification process ‘at any time’. Refugees say it’s an empty promise because repatriates are required to provide evidence of their residence in Myanmar with citizenship cards or papers that indicate where they once lived. Evidence that the Government knows that the citizenship-less Rohingya have little to no access to.

In October, Union Aid abroad hosted Rohingyan lawyer and human rights advocate in Australia, Ms Wai Wai Nu with the aim of highlighting the humanitarian crisis on our doorstep and urging our Parliament to take a stronger position in support of the persecuted Rohingya minority group.

Wai Wai Nu’s trip was successful on a number of fronts as she:

  • helped build new collaboration with and between Rohingya communities in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with new opportunities identified for 2018 for stronger national coordination within the Rohingya community in Australia;
  • enabled bridge-building between Rohingya community and other Burmese communities in Sydney in joint meetings;
  • briefed federal politicians including Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Shadow Foreign minister Penny Wong;
  • briefed a DFAT roundtable across areas of security, foreign policy and humanitarian assistance;
  • connected with academics and researchers from the ANU, UTS, UQ, ACU;
  • met with APHEDA activist groups in 4 states and participated in public events and fundraisers with Union Aid Abroad.

Many thanks to all Union Aid Abroad activists and the National Union of Workers (NUW) who assisted with Wai Wai Nu’s visit.

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