Crisis in Myanmar

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Crisis in Myanmar

Rohingya migrants sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015.  The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants -- including many young children -- was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days.     AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT        (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

Rohingya migrants sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants -- including many young children -- was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

Rohingya migrants sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants -- including many young children -- was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Rohingya migrants sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants -- including many young children -- was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

Julianna Aguja, News Editor

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Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country in Southeast Asia, has recently come under fire for its persecution of the Rohingya people, a stateless ethnic group that has had roots in Myanmar for over a millennium. The Rohingya people are a diverse mix of Muslims and Hindus living in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The Rakhine State is named for the ethnic Rakhine group which lives in the southern part of the State, while the Rohingya make up the majority of the northern part.

       In 1982, Myanmar, or Burma as it is sometimes called, passed a citizenship law that categorizes people into three groups of citizens: namely citizens, associate citizens and naturalized citizens. Citizens are the descendants of people who lived in Myanmar prior to 1823. Burma recognizes all indigenous and ethnic groups as namely citizens, except for the Rohingya who were considered full citizens before the law was passed. The 1982 Citizenship Law denies the Rohingya people of their rightful Burmese citizenship, because they do not conform to the Buddhist religion that most of Myanmar follows. In recent months, the Rohingya have experienced the worst kind of persecution in their history. The United Nations estimates that over 500,000 Rohingya were driven out of Myanmar in a single week. 60% of Rohingya villages have been abandoned, thousands of extra-judicial killings have taken place, countless numbers of women and girls have been raped and there have been multiple reports of mass infant drownings. Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the current situation with the Rohingyas, stating that it is a, “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

       Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, has been faced with widespread criticism for her handling of the Rohingya crisis. She has been nicknamed the, “Nelson Mandela of Myanmar” for her dedication to Burmese human rights. From 1962 up until 2011, Myanmar was under military control. During this time in Burmese history, the people of Myanmar lived in a socialist society with not much freedom. Aung San Suu Kyi, the current leader of Myanmar, pioneered for the liberation of her country under the junta. As a result of her illegal humanitarian efforts and persistent activist efforts under the military junta, she was put under several year-long sentences of house arrest over a span of 21 years. For her efforts and human rights activism, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an award that she was very deserving of. Members of the international community are wondering why Aung San Suu Kyi, one of Myanmar’s heroes, has decided to turn away from her fellow citizens when they are in desperate need of help.

       For decades, the Rohingya people have faced the harshest persecution imaginable. However, the current conflict between the Rohingya and the Burmese government is the worst that it has ever been. The situation reached its height on August 25th, when a group of radicalized Rohingyas killed a dozen Burmese border policemen. The ongoing persecution of the Muslim minority has left many Rohingyas vulnerable to recruitment from ISIS. It is a common theme in history – when people are tortured and bullied, radicalization will happen. Though this is not a justified form of terrorism, it is understandable why the Rohingyas would feel that violence is the only way to make their voices heard. Only a small majority of Rohingya people have joined ISIS in the last few months, as most Rohingyas have made the difficult decision to flee to Bangladesh, a country that does not have the resources or infrastructure to support the droves of Rohingyas entering the nation.

       The journey into Bangladesh is not an easy one. Thousands are housed in poorly built camps until they can board a boat to the coast of Bangladesh. The only way to get to Bangladesh is by way of the Naf River, which forces dozens of Rohingya to cram inside of small boats and embark on a dangerous voyage to the coastal Bangladeshi town, Cox’s Bazar. The United Nations estimates that 500,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar, a number which is half of the entire Burmese Rohingya population. The other half of Myanmar’s Rohingya population has either been killed, or put into concentration camps in remote Burmese provinces.

       The United Nations’ Resident Coordinator in Myanmar has said that all humanitarian efforts have been unsuccessful, “because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance.” The Burmese government’s attempt to completely isolate the Rohingya is utterly disturbing. Numerous times, Myanmar has denied allegations of ethnic cleansing and the mass-murder of the Rohingya. Last week, the United Nations held an open session regarding the Rohingya crisis. After rejecting invitations to come to UN meetings about the conflict in Rakhine State multiple times, Myanmar finally sent a representative. U Thaung Tun, Myanmar’s national security advisor, denied allegations of ethnic cleansing and repeatedly said that 50% of Rohingya villages remain intact, which is a figure that has been proven wrong by satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts.

       Besides the mass murders, the harsh conditions and the torture that is almost medieval in nature, the saddest part of the ongoing Rohingya situation is that Burma, a country that is led by one of the world’s most respected human rights activists, refuses to acknowledge the plight of the Rohingya. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have already fled their home country, and experts predict that thousands of more will embark on the long and dangerous journey to Bangladesh – a nation that cannot support the incoming refugees sufficiently.