NAYPYIDAW, Burma — A long history of discrimination follows the Rohingya, the minority Muslim community that resides along Burma’s western border. Originally from Myanmar, these people have been persecuted and even denied citizenship. Though their suffering has been well-documented, this knowledge has done little to improve the lives of the Rohingya.
Photos taken by Reuters provide a look at the conditions these people are currently living in. The pictures were taken in several camps for the internally displaced in Rakhine–Burma’s western Arakan state–where tens of thousands of Rohingya fled to after recent experiences with ethnic mob violence.
Please be advised that the images mentioned above are shocking and very disturbing. They detail not only the appalling living conditions in the area, but also the evident hunger and malnutrition (even that of infants and children).
According to one aid worker from the Kyein Ni Pin camp, six infants have passed away in the several weeks since doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres were ordered out of the country in February. Burmese officials claimed that the reason for removal was a lack of impartiality. According to the government, MSF prioritized the treatment of the Rohingya (who are denied basic human rights by the Burmese government) over that of local Buddhists.
In a responding statement, MSF said that it was “deeply shocked by this unilateral decision” and “extremely concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of patients currently under our care across the country.”
The MSF had witnessed the abuse of the community many times before their removal. One of those times was on July 14, 2009 when MSF witnessed a group of 30 police officers and local officials enter the Kutupalong makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangaladesh, and destroy and loot 259 homes. Other residents were informed that they had 48 hours to leave before their homes were burned to the ground.
“The systematic use of intimidation, violence and forcible displacement against residents of the makeshift camp is absolutely unacceptable,” said Paul Critchley, MSF head of mission in Bangladesh.
“This vulnerable population has fled persecution and discrimination in Myanmar, only to be left unrecognized and unassisted in Bangladesh,” Critchley said. “They have gathered in Kutupalong, one of many unofficial makeshift camps to have formed in recent years, to seek refuge and in turn found only fear and abuse.”
The government denies doing anything wrong. However, a 79-page report released by the Fortify Rights group says that state and government officials had been involved in “systematically persecuting Rohingya on the basis of ethnicity, religion and at times gender.”
According to Fortify Rights, the human rights violations Burmese officials have enacted include strict regulations regarding marriage, copulation, population control, movement and even breastfeeding. Fear of punishment for unsanctioned pregnancies have caused many Rohingya women to flee the country or undergo unsafe abortions that often lead to illness or death.
Above all else, the restrictions on movement perhaps hurt the Rohingya the most. Rohingya in the Rakhine State are prohibited from travelling within or between townships without prior approval.
They are only permitted to travel outside of the state in rare circumstances with additional, difficult-to-obtain authorizations. These rules restrict not only personal freedom but also access to healthcare and other opportunities for betterment–even in cases of medical emergencies. Penalties for violations include hefty fines, prison time or often both.
People like those in the MSF have attempted to offer help to the community, but “repeated threats and intimidation” to the group’s activities in Rakhine have prevented them from fulfilling their mission.
For ways to help the Rohingya, go to WeAreHelp.org or Change.org and sign the petitions.