Source: Toronto Star
Author: Olivia Ward
For decades, Burma’s Rohingya Muslims have suffered discrimination and harassment, and recently, arson, rape, violent attacks and murder. Dozens have drowned in an effort to escape by sea; others have been pushed back from Bangladesh, or kept in bleak camps where malnutrition is rife.
But the obscure minority has received little attention from the international community — until this month.
On his historic trip to Burma on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama went to bat for the stateless Rohingya, who live in Burma’s Rakhine State on the border of Bangladesh.
“For too long the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine, have faced crushing poverty and persecution,” Obama told an audience Monday. “But there’s no excuse for violence against innocent people, and the Rohingya hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do.”
The speech threw a spotlight on the Rohingya, some one million Muslims whose citizenship was cancelled by Burma in 1982, but who have remained in obscurity in spite of numerous allegations of attacks and repression by majority Buddhist groups or others with links to Burmese security forces.
Almost 200 people have been killed, and more than 100,000 displaced, since fighting sprang up between the Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine groups in June. The Rakhine — and the Burmese government — claim that the Rohingya are migrants from Bangladesh, while the Rohingya point to evidence of centuries of settlement in the region.
The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others have called for investigations and an end to the violence against Rohingya. Some have accused Burma of ethnic cleansing, as villages were reportedly burned to the ground, women raped, and Rohingya farmers and fishermen attacked by local mobs. Those who have fled to camps on both sides of the border have received little food or care.
Aid workers are especially worried about inaccessible groups in northern and eastern Rakhine, said Stephen Cornish, executive director of MSF Canada (Doctors Without Borders), who was in Rakhine this summer.