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The Invisible Race – The Rohingyas, Part III, Where are they now?

By on Aug 14, 2014 in Viewpoints | 4 comments

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Read also Rohingyas Parts I and II in this blog.

The Rohingyas are outcasts, circling out from Myanmar’s borders but staying close, not intermingling or assimilating into neighboring countries, but waiting, suspended like oil in water, until they can return to their homeland. And therein lies the problem. Their hosts, although sympathetic, are compassion fatigued and as they see monies intended for their own people, their own infrastructure, poured into the bottomless pit of Rohingya need, they toughen against them.

Without a motherland the Rohingyas swing untethered in space and their aspiration for a homeland is most likely delusional. They are unwanted dependents, beggars and thieves. They drag at our conscience, our goodness, and our empathy but we are used up and tired of feeling sorry for them.

How does it feel to be stateless? The homeless in America have rights. I’ve never been homeless. I’ve felt unwanted but that’s different. I’ve felt discarded and a pariah of sorts but I’ve always been a citizen. I’ve always been an American. I have at least that. I have always had a country where I belong.

The United Nations has identified the Rohingyas as being one of the most persecuted minorities on earth. Is it genocide? I think yes.

Six million Jews died in the Holocaust and in 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. They defined it as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.1

The Rohingyas are essentially a beautiful people but you wouldn’t know it to see them now, forced as they are to live in conditions we wouldn’t impose on animals. Around 800,000 of them have been herded into “refugee camps” in northern Myanmar. They are disease-ridden, sick and hungry. Sanitary conditions are rudimentary. The “refugee camps” are more like concentration camps with barbed wire perimeters and Burmese soldiers standing guard. The aid agencies were chased out. The Buddhist Rakhines were angry that Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and the UNHCR were helping the Rohingyas. As foreigners, Rohingyas don’t have access to the Burmese Health system. They have no food. They have no jobs. They have no access to education. It is illegal to intermarry with a Rohingya. It will soon be illegal for them to have more than two children. The only criteria the Rohingyas do not meet in order for what is happening to them to be called genocide is (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. All of the other criteria are met.

Efforts on the part of the Myanmar government to eliminate the Rohingyas aren’t new. In 1978 Ne Win initiated Operation Naga Min Sitsin Yae or King Dragon Operation, which resulted in widespread arrest, destruction of mosques and villages, rape and seizure of property. Some 250,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. In 1991, the government launched Operation Pyi Thaya or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation, for the same purpose and this resulted in 200,000 more Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh.2

What happens to a people when they are downtrodden? Morality, in the nice middle class sense of the concept, goes out the window. The Rohingyas are problematical to have around. They aren’t pure victims. They’re polluted by drugs. They traffic in Yaba, a methamphetamine mixed with caffeine and other additives. They are a breeding ground for terrorists.

That’s why no one wants them. Not Bangladesh, not India, not Malaysia, not Indonesia, not Thailand, and definitely not Australia although Australia has become for them the land of milk and honey, the proverbial land where the streets are paved with gold. International media doesn’t talk about the problems and I don’t like to mention things like Yaba but if you don’t have enough to eat, it’s nice to kill hunger with something. Yaba is cheap to make and fits the bill. It gives energy even when food and rest are lacking. If I were wandering in a jungle without food and I had to keep going or be killed, I might resort to Yaba too. The problem is huge and multifaceted. I’m humbled by it.

I asked the question, “Where is Aung San Suu Kyi on the matter?” I don’t know. She has said very little. She may be afraid to come out as protector of the Rohingyas. Her political situation is and has been for years tenuous.

Another question I had has also been difficult to answer. “Are all the Burmese against them (the Rohingya) or just some?” I don’t know. I wish there was a poll but there isn’t. Facebook appeared to be unwittingly responsible for the original outbreak of violence when the photo of the raped and murdered girl went viral in June of 2012. Since then there has been an abundance of hate speech on-line. A bright spot is Burma blogger and activist, Nay Phone Latt, who inaugurated Panzagar, flower speech, last month. He encourages followers to take a selfie of themselves with flowers in their mouth, preferably yellow flowers. He says, “There is petrol spilled across this country, so if there is a spark anywhere it could explode.” I like the metaphor. Hate speech is like petrol waiting to be ignited. The movement has volunteers that monitor Facebook and report “hate speech” abuses back to the company.3

Three final questions are left unanswered. Where will they go? Who will accept them? Where are they now? As an experienced speaker or teacher often comments, “Those are very good questions.” And I can’t answer them. It has proved difficult to say how many Rohingyas exist in the world. I’m going to do a country-by-country breakdown.

Myanmar — Myanmar has between 800,000 to a million Rohingyas living mostly in camps in Rakhine state. They are considered foreigners. They have no rights and cannot become citizens.

Bangladesh —It is possible that 750,000 Rohingya refugees more or less have entered Bangladesh. They entered at various times and returned. Some moved on to third counties. Some remained. Figures are vague. 500,000 arrived during the King Dragon Operation and 250,000 during Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation. Starting in the late 1970s many Rohingyas were issued Bangladeshi passports with the designation BM for Burmese Muslim. Passports in hand, they entered Saudi Arabia to find work. Bangladesh is now revoking the passports saying they were illegal to begin with. The reason. “Issuing of Bangladeshi passports to foreign nationals (Rohingyas) over the years has become counterproductive for the country, as the wage earning Bangladeshis and the country have to shoulder the bad name of the criminal activities committed by the Rohingyas in the Middle East.4

In early June, 2014, Bangladesh passed another law that will further limit the Rohingya’s options. The Bangladeshi government has banned marriage between Bangladeshi nationals and Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees. In addition they are also banning the Rohingyas from marrying among themselves. Both these laws will be retroactive to the beginning.5

There are two government refugee camps in Bangladesh with approximately 30,000 Rohingyas. These receive aid from the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees.

Thailand —Two Reuters journalists, Jason Szep and Andrew R. C. Marshall, recently won the Pulitzer prize for journalism for reporting on Roinghya refugees who pay to be taken to Thailand but are instead taken to holding camps in the jungle near the Malaysian border. If they cannot pay a ransom, they are transported to boats and sold to human traffickers. It is unknown how many are in these camps. Estimates range from 1,000 to 25,000.6

Indonesia —I could find very little about Indonesia. It is more a holding place for refugees before they can be sent to a third country. “Most of the dark-skinned Shia Muslim (Rohingya) asylum-seekers who have reached Indonesia are in immigration detention at Belawan, North Sumatra, or under UNHCR care in the community in nearby Medan.”7

Australia —Tony Abbot, Prime Minister, ran his campaign with the slogan “stop the boats”. The boats he meant are boatloads of asylum seekers crossing the Timor Sea from Indonesia, a two to three day journey in a small fishing vessel. The Australian government has remained secretive about their detention centers and number of people detained. The Guardian Newspaper’s Data Blog has collated the Australian government’s encounters with boats of asylum seekers who are then detained at detentions centers on Christmas Island, Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or the island of Nururu rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland. Rohingyas spend as long as a month at sea in small open boats often without food or water for days. It’s possible to travel from Burma by boat stopping along the way to refresh their supplies. Indonesian fishermen have been giving them food and water for the last leg of the journey from Timor across the Timor sea to Christmas Island. Many seek entry to Australia. They come from Cambodia, Iraq, Iran and now from Burma seeking a better life. Australia’s resources have been overwhelmed.8

Malaysia —UNHCR says 35,000 are living in registered camps.9             

Saudi Arabia – [The Bangladesh] “Expatriates’ Welfare Minister, Mosharraf Hossain, has recently said around 500,000 Rohingyas are living in Saudi Arabia with Bangladeshi passports.”10 What happens now that the passports are being revoked?            

India —According to the following excerpt there are between 20,000 and 25,000 Rohingyas in India.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in India after fleeing deadly religious persecution and massacre in Burma, which has wiped out village after village in these last few years. Though the exact number of these “infiltrators” is not known, it is estimated to be in the range of 20,000-25,000. The Rohingyas have spread into places like Delhi, Jammu, Noida, Mewat (Haryana), Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Aligarh, Hyderabad and Mumbai. In Delhi, they live in the slums of Kalindi Kunj, Khajuri, Nizamuddin and in neighbouring Noida. Their largest settlement is in Jammu, where around 2,300 Rohingyas live in subhuman conditions in makeshift tents. The Centre, which has finally woken up to the plight of these people, has started giving visas and refugee cards to them.11

United Arab Emirates — 

“There are about 50,000 Rohingyas in U.A.E living in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman,,Umm Al Quin, Fujairah, Ras Al Khai!nah . They migrated to the United Arab Emirates ( UAE) due to various political unrest in their home country Arakan in Burma during 1942 massacre, 1949 BTF operation, 1962 Military Coup in Burma led by General Ne Win, 1978 king Dragon operation, 1992 Rohingya exodus problems, when thousands of Rohingyas from Arakan fled to Bangladesh and other countries in  search of safe shelter and safety.”12 

Pakistan, Egypt, and QatarAlthough these countries would seem to be logical landing places, I could find no evidence that Rohingyas are in any other country in large numbers. I don’t understand why some of the richest countries in the world are doing nothing to help their Muslim brothers. Why is it that there is plenty of money around for fighting but very little for humanitarian aid?

As far as I can tell, that’s where they are but what can they do, where can they go? I don’t think Myanmar is going to make a place for them. Bangladesh wants to repatriate them to Myanmar. Is that why Bangladesh is revoking their passports? We help animals survive especially when they are an endangered species. Rohingyas are an endangered species of humans. If this keeps up they will die off and be no more. Maybe Myanmar will budge a little. If they are successful in ridding themselves of the Rohingyas, will the Panthays, a minority of Chinese Muslims living around Mandalay, be next then the Gurkas, then everyone else who isn’t Buddhist and of a soft brown color? What will happen? Will the world sanction Myanmar? Probably not. It upsets me to watch this happening but it’s not the only evil in the world. I’ve tried to understand the hate but I can’t.

I’ve felt discarded in life occasionally but, like a puppy, I keep coming back seeking the warmth of human acceptance. I learned from the experience of life and, in the end, I’ve resolved not to hate. Instead I’ve learned not to trust certain people. We have all been hurt at some time in our life. It’s kind of universal. It’s how we respond that defines us. I resolved to accept the people who hurt me, not only them but people like them. If I hadn’t, I would have been consumed with hate. But I need to be careful. Some people, when they’ve been hurt, resolve to get even but frequently they can’t get even with the people who hurt them. So what do they do? The next best thing. They get even with people who didn’t hurt them. Then, they don’t want to feel guilty about it so like dogs, they kick a little dirt over the shit and move on. They feel justified. They were hurt so they’re going to hurt back. That’s what the Burmese are doing to the Rohingyas. They’re hurting back for what was done to them and they feel perfectly justified. I don’t know how the Rohingyas will react but I’m not hopeful. They aren’t a perfect package. They are desperate and the desperate do desperate things. They have nothing to lose which makes them extremely dangerous. They kill. They steal. They deal in drugs. They desert their families. They do anything they can to stay alive because when you are stateless, and when you are without a country, you have nothing, not even an identity. You are Invisible.

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  1. Vickey Monrean

    August 14, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Rohingya are a stateless people cursed with generations to grow up in returnee camps. How will the years be different for them from what it has done with Palestinians?

    • hannahpowers

      August 15, 2014

      Post a Reply

      Absolutely, the Palestinians have much the same issue. 60 years after the fact they still mourn the loss of their homeland and we did it to the American Indians and the Indians had a far stronger case for being indigenous. We’ll have to keep watching. I guess I used to think Buddhist were gentler, of a better stamp than others but I was wrong. They are flexing their muscles now.

  2. Cathy

    August 16, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Wow, this is again so in-depth and passionate — I wish everybody would read this. Thank you for it.

    • hannahpowers

      August 16, 2014

      Post a Reply

      I wish more people would read it too but I don’t think I will get my wish.

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