Opinion: the Rohingya Refugee Crisis
By David Le ’19, Student Volunteer & Advocacy Projects Coordinator (NYC Campus)
(Reader discretion advisement: descriptions of child and sexual violence and ethnic cleansing)
Prior to hosting the table on the Rohingya Crisis, I had read about it on my phone during my commute to Pace. It was shocking to read about how this ethnic minority group in Myanmar were being treated, especially since Myanmar has a state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, that won a Nobel Peace Prize. I knew something had to be done, but no ideas had come to mind. When Dan and Ashley, the Associate Director and Program Coordinator of CCAR, suggested that I host a take action table on the Rohingya crisis, I knew this was my opportunity to create a voice and increase awareness within the Pace community. It was also a way to transform the anger and sadness I was feeling on the 4 train into a direct action. For those that haven’t attended a Take Action table by CCAR (I strongly encourage you to do so!), it is a table in front of the Birnbaum Library where we take a moment out of our day to ‘take action’ and learn about humanitarian or environmental issues we face today nationally and internationally. EDUCATE yourselves!
The Rohingya fear for their lives so much that they are fleeing their homes to neighboring countries. Some even flee to the mountains and are trapped there with no food and water. It’s a tough conversation to have, but we have the privilege of not having to experience that today.
To give a brief background on Myanmar’s present situation, the Rohingya people are an ethnic minority group in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. The Rohingya are persecuted because they are Muslim and speak a different dialect than the majority. Despite having a presence in Myanmar for centuries, the Rohingya are being forced out of their homes by the violent measures taken by the Myanmar government. Homes are burned down, children and elderly people slaughtered… these are some of the tactics the Myanmar government are taking to force the Rohingya out of their homes and out of the country. The Myanmar military even go as far as raping women and children in order to ridicule them. One refugee child, Mohammed Shoaib, was shot in the chest in Myanmar. Fortunately, his father was able to get him to a refugee camp in Bangladesh where a doctor was able to save him. I wasn’t prepared when I was doing research to see all the photos of the deaths of Rohingya folks that include children and elders. It truly is saddening and heartbreaking, so much so that tears were brought to my eyes.
It’s upsetting and disheartening to think that this is occurring TODAY. In October, the U.S. government withdrew U.S. military aid from Myanmar but also refuses to label the crisis “ethnic cleansing,” which Miriam Webster defines as “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity.” U.S. government officials stated that there must be further research into the situation in Myanmar until they can characterize it as ethnic cleansing, but many in the international community have adopted the label. Living in another country, we are removed from the atrocities they face, but we can begin to understand to what extent the Rohingya people are suffering through stories from refugees. Imagine if today the government military decided to burn down your apartment or house because of the religion you practice. Imagine if today they decided to slaughter you and everyone you love because of what you believe in. The Rohingya fear for their lives so much that they are fleeing their homes to neighboring countries. Some even flee to the mountains and are trapped there with no food and water. It’s a tough conversation to have, but we have the privilege of not having to experience that today.
[D]espite difficulties we face in the U.S. today, others across the globe are facing life and death situations and we should take into consideration how we could use our privilege to help them live life a little (or a lot) easier.
Although the U.S. government isn’t currently acting to relieve the situation in Myanmar, we can lend a helping hand. The most direct contribution is monetary. In my research, I found out that Myanmar has halted all international humanitarian aid. As a result, I wouldn’t suggest donating to organizations that state they’re giving resources to Rohingya in Myanmar; instead, you should donate to the neighboring countries that have refugee camps for the Rohingya people through organizations like USA for UNHCR or UNICEF. Your money would be more of use there. Another thing you can do is sign a petition, such as this one from Amnesty International, a non-profit organization that works across the United States and abroad to tackle the most pressing human rights violations.
I know this post may have been difficult to read, so you should definitely do some self-care and reflect on how despite difficulties we face in the U.S. today, others across the globe are facing life and death situations and we should take into consideration how we could use our privilege to help them live life a little (or a lot) easier.
The CCAR will also have a Take Action! opportunity on Monday, December 4th from 11:30am-1:30pm in front of the Birnbaum Library and a Common Hour Conversation with Professor T. H. Lee, Professor of History and Executive Director of the Confucius Institute Department of History at Pace University, on Wednesday, December 6th from 12:10-1:10pm in W621 – join us for more information on the Rohingya crisis, a discussion around key issues, and an opportunity to make a difference!
I’ll leave with a saying my co-worker, Carina, always mentions: “Be safe. Make good choices, and monetary donations if you can!”