Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Most Persecuted People On Earth

Burma Rohingya Muslims
Rohingya Muslims who fled Burma to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, sit in a boat after being intercepted crossing the Naf River by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh. Pic: AP.

They Have Been Called Ogres and Animals, Terrorists and Much Worse — Their Existence Is Not Acknowledged.

Asia’s more than 1 million ethnic Rohingya Muslims are considered by rights groups to be among the most persecuted people on earth. Most live in a bizarre, 21st-century purgatory without passports, unable to travel freely or call any place home.
In Burma, shaken this week by a bloody spasm of violence involving Rohingyas that left dozens of civilians dead, they are almost universally despised. The military junta whose half-century of rule ended onBurmaly last year cast the group as foreigners for decades — fueling a profound resentment now reflected in waves of vitriolic hatred that are being posted online.
“People feel it very acceptable to say that ‘we will work on wiping out all the Rohingyas,’” said Debbie Stothard, an activist with the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, referring to hyperbolic Internet comments she called “disturbing.”
The Burma government regards Rohingyas mostly as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact many of their families have lived in Burma for generations. 
“This is the tragedy of being stateless,” said Chris Lewa, who runs a non-governmental organization called the Arakan Project that advocates for the Rohingya cause worldwide.
“In Burma they’re told they’re illegals who should go back to Bangladesh. Unfortunately, they have been persecuted for decades, and it’s only getting worse.”
The unrest, which has seen more than 1,500 homes charred and thousands of people displaced along Burma’s western coast, erupted after a mob dragged 10 Muslims off a bus and killed them in apparent retaliation for the rape and murder last month of a 27-year-old Buddhist woman, allegedly by Muslims.
On Thursday, Rakhine state was reportedly calm. 
But Rohingyas living there very much feel like they’re trapped in a box,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. “They’re surrounded by enemies, and there is an extremely high level of frustration.”
Bitterness against the Rohingya in Burma has roots in a complex web of issues: the fear that Muslims are encroaching illegally on scarce land in a predominantly Buddhist country; the fact that the Rohingya look different than other Burmese; an effort by the former junta to portray them as foreigners.
Burma’s government has the largest Rohingya population in the world: 800,000, according to the United Nations. Another 250,000 are in Bangladesh, and hundreds of thousands more are scattered around other parts of the world, primarily the Middle East.
Human Rights Watch and other independent advocacy groups say Rohingyas are routinely discriminated against. In Burma, they are regularly subjected to forced labor by the army, a humiliation not usually applied to ethnic Rakhine who inhabit the same area, Lewa said.
The Rohingya must get government permission to travel outside their own villages and even to marry. Apparently concerned about their numbers growing, authorities have also barred them from having more than two children.
In 1978, Burma’s army drove more than 200,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh, according to rights groups and the U.S. Campaign for Burma. Some 10,000 died in squalid conditions, and the rest returned to Burma. The campaign was repeated in 1991-1992, and again a majority returned.
The Rohingya last garnered world headlines in 2009, when five boatloads of haggard migrants fleeing Burma were intercepted by Thai authorities. Rights groups allege they were detained and beaten, then forced back to sea, emaciated and bloodied, in vessels with no engines and little food or water. Hundreds are believed to have drowned.
The same year, Burma’s consul general in Hong Kong — now a U.N. ambassador — described the Rohingya as “ugly as ogres” in an open letter to diplomats in which he compared their “dark brown” skin to that of the “fair and soft” ethnic Burmese majority.
Many Burmese have taken to the Internet to denounce the Rohingya as foreign invaders, with some comparing them to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
What makes the latest unrest unique is that virtually “the entire population is openly and completely against” them, said Sai Latt, a writer and Burma analyst studying at Canada’s Simon Fraser University.
“We have heard of scholars, journalists, writers, celebrities, even the so-called democracy fighters openly making comments against Rohingyas,” Sai Latt said.
One Burmese actress posted “I hate them 100%” on her Facebook wall on Monday as the fires burned. By Thursday, her comment had nearly 250 “likes.”
Prominent Burmese language journals have reported “only the Rakhine side,” Sai Latt said. 

1 comment:

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