Last week, the discovery of new mass graves along the Thai-Malaysia border has shown that escaping persecution in Myanmar is not a solution to their suffering
One of the biggest tragedies of this century is currently taking place in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma until 1989 when the junta ruling Myanmar changed the English name of the country without the consent of its people. There have been arguments over the decision of which name to use since then, as it was based on political reflections rather than linguistics. To call Myanmar "Myanmar" or "Burma" is not a big deal for many around the world, of course, as they do not even know that there is such a country in Southeast Asia or what kind of a plight the minorities living in this country are dealing with.
How many people know of Rohingya Muslims? They have been living in Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan, a state in Myanmar, since the 18th century, but citizenship was denied to them in 1982. They are labeled as illegal immigrants by the government. The junta that ruled Myanmar for half a century reckoned on mixing Burmese nationalism and Theravada Buddhism and heavily discriminated against minorities. Rohingya Muslims face persecution, severe discrimination, abuse and escalating violence because of their religion and ethnicity. They are subject to arbitrary arrest, torture, slave labor, burning of their villages and rape. In 2009, a senior envoy from Myanmar to Hong Kong branded the Rohingyas "ugly as ogres." In 2011, the junta was dissolved following a 2010 general election and a civilian government rose to power. However, the heavy discrimination against Rohingyas has never ended. Even though Muslims constitute around 96 percent of the population near the border with Bangladesh and the coastal areas, there is a rule limiting them to two children per family. In 2012, the government of Myanmar banned the word Rohingya as well.
Long considered one of the world's most persecuted and least wanted peoples, Rohingyas have no legal status in the primarily Buddhist country. Buddhist monks provoke anti-Rohingya sentiments encouraging violent attacks. The Buddhist-nationalist 969 Movement repeatedly calls for the annihilation of the minority. In 2012, violent attacks incited by a campaign of anti-Muslim hate speech that continues today destroyed quite a number of Rohingya communities and displaced well more than 100,000 people. Human Rights Watch called the violence against Muslims in Myanmar "ethnic cleansing." According to the U.N., crimes against humanity have been perpetrated against Rohingyas. Recently, researchers from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that "conditions in Myanmar are ripe for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority and the treatment of Rohingya Muslims could be the prelude to genocide."
It does not end with this. Escaping discrimination, many Rohingyas have fled to the ghettos or refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh and to areas along the Thailand-Myanmar border while more than 100,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar continue to live in camps for internally displaced people. The authorities do not allow them to leave. In addition, the Bangladeshi government has reduced the amount of support for Rohingyas to prevent an inflow of refugees to the country. Last week, the discovery of new mass graves along the Thai-Malaysia border has shown that escaping persecution in Myanmar is not a solution to their suffering. At least 32 graves were found in jungle camps. Hundreds of Rohingyas were believed to have been kept prisoners there until their families paid ransoms.
This weekend, nearly 2,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, have been once again rescued in Malaysia and Indonesia. They were escaping offshore camps run by human smuggling rackets. It is thought that a further 6,000 people could still be held at sea. According to migrant officials and activists, they remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats. Despite the trouble and hardships they face, there is little sympathy for Rohingyas around the world. They do not have many options like the rest of the people. Either they will die in Myanmar or they will lose their lives on the open sea. And we are still sleeping in our warm beds every night feeling no remorse.
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