Matt Dil­lon puts rare celebrity spot­light on per­se­cuted Ro­hingya

The China Post - - ARTS - BY ROBIN MCDOW­ELL

Amer­i­can ac­tor Matt Dil­lon put a rare star-pow­ered spot­light on Myan­mar’s long-per­se­cuted Ro­hingya Mus­lims, vis­it­ing a hot, squalid camp for tens of thou­sands dis­placed by vi­o­lence and a port that has served as one of the main launch­ing pads for their ex­o­dus by sea.

It was “heart­break­ing,” he said af­ter meet­ing a young man with a raw, open leg wound from a road ac­ci­dent and no means to treat it.

Moth­ers car­ry­ing ba­bies with clear signs of mal­nu­tri­tion stood list­lessly out­side row af­ter row of iden­ti­cal bamboo huts, tod­dlers play­ing nearby in the chalky white dust.

“No one should have to live like this, peo­ple are re­ally suf­fer­ing,” said Dil­lon, wear­ing his trade­mark black T- shirt and jeans. “They are be­ing stran­gled slowly, they have no hope for the fu­ture and nowhere to go.”

Though Ro­hingya have been vic­tims of state-spon­sored dis­crim­i­na­tion for decades, con­di­tions started de­te­ri­o­rat­ing three years ago af­ter the pre­dom­i­nantly Bud­dhist coun­try of 50 mil­lion be­gan its bumpy tran­si­tion from a half-cen­tury of dic­ta­tor­ship to democ­racy.

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of new­found free­doms of ex­pres­sion, rad­i­cal monks started fan­ning deepseated so­ci­etal ha­tred for the re­li­gious mi­nor­ity. Hun­dreds have been killed by ma­chete-wield­ing mobs and a quar­ter mil­lion oth­ers now live un­der apartheid-like con­di­tions in camps or have fled by boat — hun­dreds of de­hy­drated, hun­gry Ro­hingya wash­ing onto Southeast Asian shores in re­cent weeks.

As they be­come in­creas­ingly marginal­ized, sev­eral groups are warn­ing that the build­ing blocks of geno­cide are in place.

“I know that’s a very touchy word to use. But there’s a very omi­nous feel­ing here,” said Dil­lon, one of the first celebri­ties to try to get a first-hand look at what life is like for Ro­hingya in the west­ern state of Rakhine.

De­nied cit­i­zen­ship, they are ef­fec­tively state­less with al­most no ba­sic rights

Dil­lon said he de­cided to come to Myan­mar fol­low­ing a des­per­ate, ur­gent ap­peal by Ro­hingya ac­tivist Thun Khin at a Refugees In­ter­na­tional fundraiser in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., just over a month ago. In Ja­pan to pro­mote his new tele­vi­sion se­ries, Way­ward Pines, he de­cided it was a good time to make the trip.

“There are peo­ple work­ing here, peo­ple who know a hell of a lot more about it than I do,” Dil­lon said af­ter hear­ing grum­bling from some aid work­ers about what he hoped to achieve. “But lis­ten, if I can use my voice to draw at­ten­tion to some­thing, where I see peo­ple suf­fer­ing, I’ll do that any day of the week. I’m happy to do that.”

He spoke to two teenage boys who tried to flee by boat, only to find them­selves in the hands of hu­man traf­fick­ers, and was chased away by armed se­cu­rity guards when try­ing to snap pic­tures of the last stand­ing Ro­hingya neigh­bor­hood in the state cap­i­tal — a ghetto sur­rounded by tall walls topped by rolls of heavy barbed wire.

But what re­ally choked him up were the camps: “It af­fected me more than I thought it would.”

While there were clear signs hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies are ac­tive — new la­trines, well-placed hand pumps, con­crete open sew­ers — he noted in con­trast to camps he’s vis­ited in Su­dan and the Congo, he didn’t run into a sin­gle West­ern aid worker dur­ing his two-day visit.

Nor were NGO trucks rum­bling through with med­i­cal equip­ment, food or other sup­plies — due pri­mar­ily to se­vere re­stric­tions placed on aid agen­cies by the gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing pres­sure from Bud­dhist ex­trem­ists.

“I’ve been to some places where the threats of vi­o­lence seemed more im­mi­nent,” he said. “Here it’s some­thing else. It feels more like peo­ple are go­ing to be left to wither away and die.”

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