The Rohingya are a small Muslim minority forced to live in modern day concentration camps in Myanmar (Burma) along the Thai-Burmese border. Locked within the camps, the Rohingya are deprived of jobs, schools, and basic access to food, water, proper sanitation, and healthcare. This reporter found a young pregnant woman laboring for over 20 hours with a breached baby. There were no hospitals and no doctors to aid her. Driving her across the camp to a small clinic, the only nurse in residence said she could do nothing to help. When asked the nurse said plainly, “Yes, she will die.”
It’s like we are being in jail. Like birds in the cage. Like in the ghetto.
How did this happen? The current ethnic violence plaguging the country can be traced back to the 2012 Rakhine State Riots in northern Rakhine State. Tihs was a series of ethnically charged conflicts between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims. Since June of 2012 there have been more than 200 deaths and at least 100,000 people ahve been displaced.
One of the biggest problems is that the Myanmar government has done nothing to stop the violence perpetrated by the Rakhine Buddhist monks who spread hate and fear of the Rohingya. In fact, a number of government officials actively support the violence and internment of the Rohingya. One official explained:
To me, the situation isn’t so bad. Don’t worry…. The first thing I want to say is that when you are here in [our] state, don’t use the word ‘Rohingya.’ There’s no such thing as the Rohingya ethnicity in our country.
As NYT reporter Nicholas Kristof argues, “How can there be progress for the Rohingya when the officials deny their very existance?” One of the worst perpetrators of hate speech is the Buddhist monk Wirathu. Speaking with Nicholas Kristof, he explained:
Muslims are like African catfish. They breed rapidly. They have violent behavior. And they eat their own kind, and other fish.
You can see how far his ideology has spread throughout the Buddhist monastic order. The abbot of a remote rural temple told Kristof, “When there are a lot of Muslims, they start waging jihad. It happens everywhere.” When asked about his responsibility as a religion leader to stem this violence, the abbot said, “Buddhism is not a violent religion. But if someone attacks us, we can’t just lie down and take it.”
Until prominent government and religious leaders in Myanmar recognize the Rohingya as a people and stop spreading violence and discord, the desperate situation for this country’s nearly one million Muslims who are living in the squalid camps will remain a major concern for peace and stability.