On World Refugee Day, an overview of a persecuted Muslim minority
HSINCHU CITY, Taiwan — As we observe World Refugee Day today, nearly 750,000 Rohingya people from Myanmar remain confined to clusters of overcrowded tents they call their home in neighboring Bangladesh. They say they fled a military crackdown and persecution by sections of Rakhine Buddhists.
While Rohingyas, who are from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, have experienced ethnic and religious persecution for decades, a new wave of attacks erupted in 2012, which further intensified in 2015, soon after the southeast Asian country held its first democratic elections in 25 years. Persecution reached an unprecedented level in 2017, prompting the United Nations to call the crisis a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".
About 30,000 Rohingyas have been killed before they could flee, and nearly 20,000 girls and women have been raped, said Yangon-based Rohingya activist Sam Naeem, also known as Khin Maung Myint.
In March, the government of Bangladesh announced the country would no longer accept more refugees, even as other countries, including India, remain hostile to asylum-seeking Rohingyas. About 500,000 remain trapped in Rakhine state, facing ongoing hostilities.
Under international pressure, the Myanmar government allowed the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission to look at the social and economical well-being of Rohingyas as well as local Buddhists. In August 2017, the panel, led by the former UN Secretary-General, made 88 recommendations to the government of Myanmar. They included alleviation of poverty, civil freedoms for Rohingyas, as well as a review of Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law.
The government of Myanmar claims it has adopted 81 of the recommendations. However, Naeem, who was formerly a member of Nobel Laureate’s National League for Democracy, refutes those claims.
Speaking to Religion Unplugged on the sidelines of the Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum in Hsinchu City this month, Naeem took us through the evolution of what is being seen as one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes of this century.