Is There Hope for Rohingya Refugees?

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SEATTLE — The Rohingya refugees remain one of the most persecuted and estranged religious minorities in the world. A majority of the one million Rohingya Muslims hail from the state of Rakhine in Myanmar, where they are impoverished, abused, and hated by 50 million Buddhists. 2015 was an especially despairing year.

Rohingya refugees are presumed to be illegal migrants from the Bengal region. Historically, the disintegration of the British Colonial rule in the 1940s had culminated in religious clashes. This resulted in the Rohingya being exempted from citizenship.

The Rohingya Muslims blend aspects of Sufism with their Sunni Islam ethnicity and ideologies. The general public, who are staunch believers of Buddhism, consider the heritage deplorable. The 969 movement in 2012 was a particularly vindictive turn that was taken to undermine the religious beliefs of the Rohingya.

Their contrasting dialect and cultural practices led to a series of discriminatory policies. As a result, many of them have had to leave their homes, as they are unable to support their families. The death toll reached a peak in the year 2015. Moreover, their state has been aggravated by slow rehabilitation programs by other countries. Many of the Rohingya do not maintain hope.

But many Rohingya refugees have been given a ray of hope. The Al-Akhlas Rohingya refugee school in Selayang in Malaysia has welcomed 130 Rohingya children with open arms. Their teacher, Arfath, has condemned the plight they have had to suffer.

Over the years, politicians in Myanmar have failed to decipher the solution to the problem and alleviate the threat that has shadowed the lives of this vulnerable group.

However, the leader of the National League of Democracy Party (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, has made some progress and headway with regards to the severity of the issue. Her recent press conference on June 7 with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has accentuated many of her views.

Suu Kyi’s moderate views may be an impetus for change. The Foreign Ministry has proclaimed that she is advising the public “not to use the term Rohingya.” This could help remediate segregation and perhaps restrain hardliners from carrying out demonstrations.

The No Hate Speech Online campaign aspires to end the spread of parochial and entrenched views as monks in Myanmar propagate “hate speech,” which spread negative views of the Rohingya.

It is imperative that a message of positive cohesion be given to the masses. The creation of The Central Committee for Implementation of Peace will enable Rakhine State Representatives and cabinet members to spearhead a collaborative initiative to achieve “more peace and stability,” as highlighted by their motto.

53,410 refugees have been registered by the UNHCR in Malaysia and have been provided supplies. A UNHCR-affiliated group, Helping Hands Foundation, has similarly helped the public. There are 3000 Rohingya refugees in Hyderbad. Every week, 150 are treated at a community hall where they are able to pray and relish a good meal.

So far, ASEAN and UNHCR have been burdened by efforts to channel the aid through the government in Myanmar. However, the new NLD government may bring a ray of hope for the Rohingya refugees as the military rule has now ended. It is vital that regular U.N. envoys visit the internment and refugee camps in Myanmar on a regular basis so that the situation is monitored well.

Rehabilitation programs need to be highly efficient, and neighboring countries need to prioritize Rohingya Refugees from asylum seekers. It is essential for the aid to be sustainable so that people become economically self-sufficient. Even the provision of adequate education in camps such as Thet Kay Pyin can give hope to the Rohingya.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

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