The hor­ror en­gulf­ing the Ro­hingya peo­ple is a hu­man­i­tar­ian and eth­nic dis­as­ter

Alas­tair Dut­ton calls on Scots to help with aid to suf­fer­ing refugees

The Scotsman - - Friends Of The Scotsman -

More than half a mil­lion Ro­hingyan refugees were forced to flee for their lives from Myan­mar (for­merly Burma) into neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh, where they re­main in camps, haunted by the hor­rors of see­ing their vil­lages burned, women raped, and scores of fam­ily and friends slaugh­tered or tor­tured in places of wor­ship.

A UN hu­man rights re­port has cited dis­turb­ing eye­wit­ness de­scrip­tions of nu­mer­ous killings, in­clud­ing one from a 12-year-old girl who told how se­cu­rity forces and Bud­dhists from Rakhine state sur­rounded her house and started to shoot.

They gunned down her sev­enyear-old sis­ter right in front of her – no child should have to wit­ness such ex­tra­or­di­nary bru­tal­ity and bar­bar- ity. In her own heart­break­ing words, the young girl re­called: “I tried to pro­tect her and care for her, but we had no med­i­cal as­sis­tance and she was bleed­ing so much that after one day she died. I buried her my­self.”

The re­port also states that in some cases, be­fore and dur­ing the at­tacks, mega­phones were used to an­nounce: “You do not be­long here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.” The UN High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hus­sein, has said the bru­tal killing “seems [to be] a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing”.

Hav­ing fled the sav­age hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions by the army in Rakhine, the Ro­hingyan peo­ple’s night­mare is far from over. They now face the threat of mal­nu­tri­tion, cholera, and other dis­eases in sprawl­ing makeshift camps along the Bangladesh bor­der and in the Cox’s Bazar dis­trict.

While they lan­guish in barely ac­ces­si­ble ar­eas of Bangladesh’s flood­plains and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity strug­gles to get the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment to ac­cept their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, SCIAF’S sis­ter agency Car­i­tas Bangladesh is pro­vid­ing food, wa­ter and ba­sic es­sen­tials.

We’ve al­ready com­mit­ted £100,000 to Car­i­tas Bangladesh and have been over­whelmed by the gen­eros­ity of Scots who, within only a few days of launch­ing our Ro­hingya Emer­gency Ap­peal, do­nated more than £120,000.

The first visit to Rakhine by Myan­mar’s State Coun­sel­lor and No­bel peace lau­re­ate Aung San Suu Ky­is­ince­vi­o­lence­broke­outin­au­gust was a con­cil­ia­tory move that may mark a greater role by the civil­ian gov­ern­ment but, hav­ing been a cause cele­bre for hu­man right ac­tivists for decades, her fail­ure to con­demn the Ro­hingya killings is scan­dalous.

At the heart of this suf­fer­ing is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence in un­der­stand­ing of sovereignty and the na­tion. Be­yond Suu Kyi’s dif­fi­cul­ties with army gen­er­als and the con­sti­tu­tional lim­its on her power, a more fun­da­men­tal is­sue is whether, hav­ing lived there for cen­turies, the Ro­hingya have any claim on the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment or to na­tion­al­ity.

“There are no Ro­hingya in Myan­mar,” the author­i­ties say. “Th­ese

are Bengalis [il­le­gal im­mi­grants] brought by the Bri­tish.” Even what to call the Ro­hingya is a toxic de­bate.

The his­tory of Myan­mar – even of the coun­try’s name – is one of one eth­nic group ex­clud­ing and dom­i­nat­ing oth­ers. The old name, Burma, re­flects the dom­i­nance of the Burman peo­ple in the coun­try, and therein lies the nub of the prob­lem.

There is an over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus among the peo­ple of Myan­mar, the army and gov­ern­ment that the Ro­hingya peo­ple, who do not share the Burman eth­nic­ity, cul­ture or reli­gion, are not cit­i­zens of Myan­mar.

The gov­ern­ment and peo­ple of the coun­try don’t seem to feel, or demon­strate, any re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Ro­hingya. What is lack­ing is just, vi­able no­tions of cit­i­zen­ship and the na­tion which serve ev­ery­one in the coun­try.

Pope Fran­cis’s visit next month to Myan­mar and then Bangladesh shows his pas­toral com­mit­ment to en­gage with the highs and lows of the coun­tries. I sin­cerely hope he will help in­cul­cate some sense of Myan­mar’s na­tional civic re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards the Ro­hingya, who have lived for so long within their bor­ders.

Con­sti­tu­tional changes of this kind would also ben­e­fit the Rakhine, Kachin, Karen and other eth­nic groups which all have strug­gles with the gov­ern­ment. It’s vi­tal that the Ro­hingya are recog­nised as cit­i­zens of Myan­mar and are able to go home to en­joy the as­so­ci­ated rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Most im­me­di­ately, how­ever, it is es­sen­tial that the vi­o­lence and eth­nic cleans­ing stops, and that the Ro­hingya can count on our com­pas­sion and gen­eros­ity to care for their most ba­sic needs.

Please sup­port SCIAF’S Ro­hingya Emer­gency Ap­peal by vis­it­ing www.sciaf.org.uk Alis­tair Dut­ton, SCIAF di­rec­tor.

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