Sesame Street's Rohingya MuppetsSesame Street is developing two Rohingya muppets to help refugee children overcome trauma. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by fostering access to education. Poverty affects all aspects of life. Children who live in poverty suffer from many physical, intellectual and emotional complications. Child stunting, for example, is a result of nutrient-deficient diets, repeated infection and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child’s life. This has dire long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development. Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets aim to improve the intellectual development of Rohingya children, which directly affects education, and in turn, poverty.

Stunting and Malnutrition in Rohingya Children

The Rohingya people are a stateless Muslim minority group who have lived in a state of flux, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, since they were forced to flee Myanmar. They were violently persecuted by the Myanmar military, an instance of ethnic cleansing. Close to 800,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to Bangladesh. It is common for refugees to live in refugee camps within Bangladesh.

A group of refugee camps, located in Cox’s Bazar, was the subject of a 2017-2018 study on the rates of stunting and malnutrition in Rohingya children. The study found that the rate of stunting “dropped from 44% to 38% in the main camp.” Although it is positive that the rate of childhood stunting declined, the rate of childhood stunting still remained dangerously close to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical health emergency threshold of 40%.

Additionally, the rate of acute malnutrition dropped from close to 20% to nearly 10%. Childhood deaths declined. The rate of diarrhea, caused in some instances by dehydration or bacterial infection, also declined. Nonetheless, these rates remain too high to relieve concerns and the situation is still described as dire.

Malnutrition affects a child’s developing brain, impacting education and reducing the ability of a person to lift themselves out of poverty.

Sesame Street’s Rohingya Muppets

The majority of humanitarian funding is deployed to address acute effects of poverty like stunting and malnutrition. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing on education and intellectual development. Sherrie Westin is the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop and she identified that “less than 3% of all aid is used for education.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets consist of two characters, Noor Yasmin and Aziz, to connect with Rohingya children on an intellectual and emotional level. Westin feels that without intervention by Sesame Street, Rohingya children risk growing up unable to read and write or do simple math.

Westin cited scientific research as the basis for her concern. Similar to the way inadequate dietary nutrition and disease lead to physical stunting, stress and trauma stunt brain development. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by providing emotional and intellectual support to Rohingya children who have endured trauma.

BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Lab

In Bangladesh, Sesame Street partnered with BRAC. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are designed to help children learn through play and recover from emotional trauma in the process. BRAC designs its play labs to resemble settings that are familiar to the children it works with. In Bangladesh, this means that Rohingya children are surrounded by “motifs and paintings significant to Rohingya culture.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets reflect an integral part of BRAC’s approach. Children relate best to characters that they can identify with and they flourish in settings that are familiar and comfortable. BRAC’s success speaks for itself. Close to 90% of the kids that BRAC works with complete the fifth grade of schooling.

Sesame Street Addresses Rohingya Poverty

While the humanitarian crisis among Rohingya refugees is ongoing, recognition of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on intellectual development is crucial to lifting the Rohingya out of poverty. Education alleviates poverty and negating the effects of trauma will allow for proper intellectual development to take on educational endeavors. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing its attention on the intellectual development of Rohingya children.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to MyanmarOn August 24, 2017, Rohingya militants attacked more than 30 police posts in Myanmar. The government retaliated by burning Rohingya villages, killing Rohingya civilians and committing other atrocities against the country’s Muslim minority. The situation has increased the need for humanitarian aid to Myanmar.

As of October 19, 2017, almost 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh and the number is continuing to climb. The U.N. referred to the situation as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The government has denied many of the allegations and has taken control of aid operations, blocking many types of aid from reaching the country.

Yet even in such dark situations, inspiring examples of kindness and generosity can be found. In that spirit, here are some of the positive stories of humanitarian aid to Myanmar in the midst of a horrendous situation.

  1. The United States has pledged an additional $32 million of humanitarian aid to Myanmar and the surrounding regions that will go toward helping the Rohingya people. These additional funds bring total U.S. assistance to the area to nearly $95 million for the 2017 financial year.
  2. The Canadian government has promised to provide $2.5 million in aid to the Rohingya. This pledge is a part of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and will go to women and children displaced by the crisis. Canada has sent $6.6 million to Myanmar and Bangladesh so far in 2017.
  3. Norway made a pledge to provide an additional $3 million of aid to those affected by the conflict. Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Eriksen Søreide, also called on Myanmar’s government to give access to organizations providing humanitarian aid to Myanmar to the worst-affected areas of the country.
  4. The United Nations Refugee Agency has been working with the government of Bangladesh to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. The Agency has opened medical centers to tend to the needs of the refugees.

These are only a few of the many governments, organizations and individuals that have assisted the Rohingya people in the midst of this horrendous crisis. Humanitarian aid to Myanmar and the surrounding area continues to be delivered in many different forms.

The humanitarian aid to Myanmar is a reminder that even in times of unspeakable tragedy, there are always individuals who are helping and making a difference. It is imperative to keep this in mind when thinking about the importance of humanitarian aid and foreign assistance.

– Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr

Porrajmos GenocideThe Porrajmos genocide is the term used to describe the attempted genocide of the European Roma during World War II. The name itself is rarely seen in pop culture, so it has been unjustly forgotten despite being a synonym of another word that does have a solid hold of our collective consciousness: Holocaust. But the Holocaust was not, as too many believe, solely a persecution of the Jewish population. In fact, there were many groups who experienced the horrors of Holocaust. Here, the focus turns to the Roma.

Who are the Roma?
The Roma, known widely as the pejorative “Gypsy,” are a traditionally nomadic people who migrated to Europe from Northern India between the eighth and tenth centuries C.E. In the thousand years since that migration. they have lived and worked all over Europe as one of the most oppressed ethnic groups in the history of the region.

The reasons for the massive prejudices held against the Roma people range from a European perception of the people as unclean, thieving and socially different, to the extent that they were believed to be Egyptian migrants (as the etymology of the term “Gypsy” suggests). The unifying factor of these prejudices is quite simple: they are untrue. Nevertheless, it was the hate bred by these misconceptions that led to the Nazi genocide campaign, resulting in the murder of an estimated 220,000 people, or 25 percent of all European Roma.

In the interest of rectifying their unequal representation in the history of World War II, what follows is a list of facts about the Porrajmos genocide, and the “forgotten people” who were its victims.

The Facts

  1. Like the Nazi view of the Jews, the Roma were considered to be an inferior ethnicity.
  2. German S.S. forces began relocating Roma families in 1940. They were moved to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen and Ravensbrück.
  3. To distinguish them from the Jewish population, Roma were made to wear an inverted black or brown triangle (worn by those considered to be “asocial”) while living in the camps.
  4. In one of the first rounds of deportation, a group of 5,007 German Roma were sent to the Lodz ghetto. Nearly half died within the first month due to poor living conditions. The rest were murdered at Chelmno a few months later.
  5. Between 5,000 and 15,000 Roma are believed to have qualified for exemption from incarceration if they were thought to be “pure blooded” or they occupied a higher standing in German society. Authorities often ignored that exemption, meaning that a large number of Roma were sent to concentration camps while on leave from the German armed forces.
  6. In 1944, S.S. officers ordered the killing of an entire compound within Auschwitz. When the Roma discovered their intentions, they armed themselves and refused to exit the compound. This action, though noble, only delayed the eventual execution of 2,000 people, half the compound’s population. The rest were sent to other camps. By the end of the war, nearly 23,000 Roma had died in Auschwitz.
  7. In the Baltics, an estimated 30,000 Roma were shot without ever being deported to a camp.
  8. In Romania, close to 30,000 Roma were forced to leave their homes and relocate to one ghetto.
  9. Between 3,000 and 6,000 Roma were interned by Vichy France in the early 1940s.
  10. In the Independent State of Croatia, an Axis partner, the entire Roma population of 25,000 people was executed.

This list, though nauseating, demonstrates the brutal nature of Roma internment during the war, and brings to light some compelling questions, such as “why has history forgotten them?” and “where are they now?”. The answers to these questions are intimately tied to the prewar European prejudices mentioned above. While the result of the Jewish Holocaust was an opening of the conversation, that of the Roma effectively intensified their dissociation from European identity.

Now, 72 years and a Porrajmos genocide later, Europe has yet to open a healing dialogue about the Roma’s place in European society or offer any concrete policy changes to help the transition of Roma communities out of shantytowns and into proper housing. As a result, unemployment, discrimination, lack of education and racist violence against the Roma have become a devastating norm for Europe’s oldest ethnic minority.

-Katarina Schrag

Photo: Google

Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Rohingya people are mostly Muslim-practicing individuals, and according to the United Nations, they are under attack. Specifically, the U.N. stated that the situation, which is characterized by a series of “cruel military operations,” is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Thus, the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar must not be ignored.

In his address, Senator McCain withdrew his support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), which sought to expand a military relationship between the United States and Myanmar. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference throughout the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. He stated, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Joshua Kurlantzick, the Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia on the Council on Foreign Relations, Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work with democracy and human rights, “has never demonstrated much sympathy” to the Rohingya people.

Furthermore, Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, which are a minority group within Myanmar’s largely Buddhist population, are not recognized as an official ethnic group by the country’s government. The attacks against the Rohingya people escalated on August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted multiple police and military officials.

Approximately 370,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya remain displaced throughout Myanmar. However, the Myanmar government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities such as food or health services.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place pressure on the Myanmar government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people.

Suu Kyi’s silence has been demonstrated to have a significantly negative impact on the attacks against the Rohingya people, but she can help stabilize the situation by allowing foreign aid to reach the displaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is incredibly important for pregnant women and young children. The nutritious food provided by WFP has slightly lessened the risk of disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, by helping to strengthen the immune system and health outcomes. They are seeking further financial resources to continue their work in tackling the crisis.

The Rohingya still remained displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, WFP’s food delivery is a great first step to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Bosnia and Herzegovina Refugees
With the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Eastern Europe was impacted by a sudden wave of mass displacement and migration as a result of oppression. Bosnia and Herzegovina became embroiled in the Bosnian War in 1992. The consequences of the war were widespread and continue to have implications to this day, especially as the Balkan region is drawn into the migrant exodus in Europe.

In the scramble to obtain Bosnian territory, the careful balance of power collapsed. The Bosnian Serbs yearned for Bosnia to be a part of a Greater Serbia. Non-Serbs, such as the Bosnian Croats and Muslims, soon called for Bosnian independence. Ethnic relations soon spiraled out of control, especially after the siege of Sarajevo. In the push for a Greater Serbia, the President of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, began ubiquitous ethnic cleansing campaigns. Here are 10 facts about the Bosnia and Herzegovina refugees who fled from this crisis.

  1. From 1989 to 1992, 2.3 million people fled their homes as a result of the collapse of the six republics of Yugoslavia, according to the UNHCR. Of this figure, 600,000 individuals came from the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Villages, towns and cities were destroyed during the war, and cases of rape were widespread, giving rise to a great exodus.
  2. The escalation of the conflict led to deficiencies in infrastructure, amenities and services between 1989 and 1992. Greater Serbia suffered extreme food shortages. An aggregate of 12,000 residents were killed in Sarajevo during the course of the conflict.
  3. Bosnian visa application skyrocketed in 1991. However, may were denied visas due to the magnitude of applications that were received. Applications in Belgrade shot up 60% during this period.
  4. In 1995, the Dayton Accords were finally signed, resulting in the split of Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Bosniak Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic. This brought about a cessation of hostilities. NATO, the U.N. and the EU were key parties that helped the former Yugoslavia republics gain their regional footing.
  5. Moreover, in 1995, the UNHCR mobilized funds amounting to USD $458 million for resettlement and humanitarian assistance. With the integration of various governments in Europe and other bodies, the UNHCR is helping refugees return home after 20 years.
  6. In the same year, 1995, more than 130,000 Bosnia and Herzegovina refugees were successfully resettled in the United States. A majority of them live in Chicago and Missouri. This was one of the most successful and significant examples of mass emigration and resettlement of the time.
  7. In the year 2015, the UNHCR and the EU helped execute a revised strategy of the Dayton Peace Agreement. The move is currently yielding good results with regards to human rights, social protection, housing and the status of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
  8. In March of 2016, Radovan Karadzic was finally convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in the persecution of 7,500 Muslim Bosniaks in the Srebrenica enclave along with the oppression of ethnic groups. He had previously spent 13 years in hiding before facing the U.N. International Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
  9. In November of 2016, Open Democracy highlighted that more than one million refugees were choosing to return home after twenty years of living abroad. With a majority Muslim population of 27,000, the town of Kozarac is the heart of the resettlement process. The town is still currently in transition as people try to reinvent their lives.
  10. On Oct. 14, 2016, photojournalist Miquel Ruiz showcased 24 images of the genocide in Sarajevo as a memorial to Bosnia’s tumultuous past. The photos included life during the siege, refugee camps and the remains of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

The combined effects of political turmoil, poverty, displacement and resource shortages plagued the lives of Bosnia and Herzegovina refugees, and they have continued to be affected to this day.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

what is Ethnic Cleansing
What is ethnic cleansing? The term ethnic cleansing refers to the mass purge of members of an ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another. Throughout history, there have been many brutal examples of it. The aim is to rid of unwanted members of society and create an ethnically pure community.

The most famous examples of ethnic cleansing occurred throughout the 20th century. First, the Turkish massacre of Armenians during World War I, followed by the Holocaust during the Second World War. The Holocaust is possibly the most horrific example of ethnic cleansing, as the Nazis annihilated around 6 million European Jews. A final example is a forced displacement carried out in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda during the 1990s.

A recent example of ethnic cleansing is the Iraq Civil War, that consequently led to the Iraqi insurgency, which began in 2011 and is still happening. Areas are being evacuated as a result of insecurity and fear. The United Nations estimates that 2.2 million Iraqis have been displaced and that nearly 100,000 Iraqis evacuated to neighboring countries each month.

It is common for ethnic cleansing and genocide to get confused, as both include mass expulsion. Genocide means the targeting of a large group and the deliberate killing of its members. The International Criminal Court has linked both ethnic cleansing and genocide very closely, labeling them both as crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ethnic cleansing has many consequences. There have been many cases of depression and other forms of psychological anguish as a result of it. Communities built by refugees are plagued with sadness, and the numbers of those living beneath the poverty line continue to increase. Shortages of food, clean water and housing become more apparent as these numbers continue to rise.

Finding a solution to ethnic cleansing is too difficult due to the vast differences between various ethnic groups and members of society. The only help that can be given is to the victims of it. This can be done through the donation of resources, to help communities that are struggling as a result of brutal situations.

Georgia Boyle

Photo: Flickr

10 Ways to Respond to Ethnic Cleansing in South Sudan
More than two decades after at least 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda, the situation seems poised to repeat itself in the world’s youngest country. More than one million people have fled South Sudan since violence erupted in the country in 2013, creating the largest mass exodus of any Central African conflict since the Rwandan genocide. In light of a new U.N. declaration that the country is on the brink of disaster and that ethnic cleansing is under way, it is imperative that the international community responds differently than it did in 1994. Here are 10 ways that the international community — from leaders to citizens — can respond to ethnic cleansing in South Sudan.

  1. Impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo
    The United States has pushed for sanctions and an arms embargo against South Sudan, but the U.N. vote on such measures has been pushed back following opposition from Russia, China and others. However, this measure is imperative as it is the simplest and most effective way for the international community to curb ethnic cleansing in South Sudan.
  2. Establish a death toll
    Ivan Šimonović, the U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, stressed the importance of a death toll in 2014. He said public information had the power to “deter continued violations of human rights” and keep communities informed. “Only reliable reporting can help them to reconcile, knowing that both sides have been involved as perpetrators as well as victims,” he said.
  3. Deploy regional protection force
    The U.N. approved the deployment of a regional protection force in August, and South Sudan finally agreed to the deployment in late November. In an editorial for Al Jazeera, three South Sudanese writers stressed the importance of this force, and suggested that its powers included “monitoring, disarming and demobilizing any armed group targeting civilians”.
  4. Establish a hybrid court
    Human rights organizations have expressed concerns that the focus on ethnic cleansing in South Sudan will allow perpetrators of crimes such as destruction of property, rape and murder to go unpunished. Amnesty International has urged the African Union Commission and the South Sudanese government to establish a hybrid court so that all crimes are appropriately prosecuted.
  5. Ensure that new tools and structures put in place to prevent genocide are followed
    World leaders must put structures in place to ensure an effective response to genocide. In the U.S., President Obama had the Atrocities Prevention Board created to facilitate a multilateral response to atrocities and genocide globally. But it is the job of citizens to ensure that these structures function as intended.
  6. Establish an early warning system
    According to Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, an early warning system will help prevent further genocides and ensure that countries are able to respond quickly and effectively when a nation is showing warning signs characteristic of genocide.
  7. Confront Power Vacuum
    Experts believe that the perceived power vacuum that will be left after president Obama leaves office could be a trigger for ethnic cleansing in South Sudan. It is the job of the new administration to confront this vacuum and ensure that the security of human rights remains a global priority.
  8. Keep pressure on political leaders to respond to the crisis in South Sudan
    Congressional leaders must continue to fight to hold human rights abusers to account, and promote peace, by passing bills like the recently-approved Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
  9. Members of the U.N. Security Council- Prioritize genocide prevention in South Sudan
    The United Nations must continue to monitor and prioritize the situation in South Sudan, offering aid, guidance, and resolutions in pursuit of peace.
  10. Media- Prioritize genocide prevention in South Sudan
  11. In 1994, the media failed to give the Rwandan genocide adequate coverage. The media must not make that same mistake by failing to report on the situation in South Sudan.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr