Rohingya plight

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The Rohingya people have recently been referred to as the most persecuted people on Earth, who have lived for decades alongside Myanmar’s dominant majority, the largely Buddhist Rakhine, in a mutually unsteady and often turbulent partnership. However, an outbreak of hatred and violence by a Rohingya insurgent group ended with attacks with rifles and machetes on a series of security posts in Myanmar on August 25. This provided the military with the opportunity to launch a brutal round of “clearance operations” in response, a military which has openly insisted that Myanmar is not the home of the Rohingya.

Those fleeing their assailants have given accounts of indiscriminate attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs, often including domestic destruction, killings and sexual violence. Whilst some media coverage has been allowed in surrounding refugee camps, a strict military clampdown has been enforced, resulting in an information blackout from the Arakan area from which the Rohingya flee. However, reports of smoke rising from former communities do confirm the actions of the Myanmar’s military leadership, in particular, the Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who holds responsibility for commanding the oppressive forces.

Considering the actions of the Myanmar government, it’s not only the response of Aung San Suu Kyi that seems mediocre. Whilst news outlets such as the BBC have covered the progress of the cleansing, no intervention as of yet has occurred from either the United Nations (UN) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At home, a protest with around 200 participants that took place in London on 7 September outside Theresa May’s doorstep. This encouraged the Prime Minister to announce that “Britain will stop training of Burma’s armed forces” which, until last year, spent £305,000 on educational programs for the Burmese military on democracy and leadership. This protest was given no major media coverage, national or global. I only became aware of the protest as I walked past the banners whilst in London; the only documentation of this event were the posts online from the participants themselves. On top of this, both Facebook and Twitter have banned the Rohingya group’s posts on the basis that they contained material which could incite violence. This appears, at best, insincere when you consider the use of Twitter by Libyan rebels to call in a NATO airstrike against Gaddafi, confirmed by British Wing Commander Mike Bracken in 2011, as well as other its use by other radical groups.

The current situation in and around Myanmar is dire. Like the refugee “crisis” in Europe originating in Syria, many of Myanmar’s neighbouring countries are closing their borders to the stricken, with only the original camps acting as a safe haven. In this situation, it often falls to the international community to condemn and take diplomatic or military action against what has been described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. However, the response has lacked in everything from effectiveness to sincerity. Nijam Uddin Mohammed, a Bradford resident who immigrated to the city in 2008, believes the international community has been too slow to condemn Aung San Suu Kyi over her handling of the crisis. He recently helped publish an article in the Guardian, which suggested that Britain – and Bradford (which houses the largest Rohingya community in Europe) – should use its influence abroad and offer sanctuary to those who have fled Myanmar during the latest crackdown.

Whilst these actions would clash with the current government’s migration cap plans, it seems obvious that aid should be offered to the people fleeing the actions of a military government. Although the situation is constantly changing and being reassessed, one constant remains: how to reverse the genocide. To reiterate the words of Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, “an unequivocal message must come from the international community. In the face of mass destruction, killings and hundreds of thousands displaced, inaction is not an option.” In the absence of a comprehensive UN embargo, it is now up to individual governments to take their own actions to pressure Myanmar’s military. For the moment, the bloodshed continues unchecked.