Myanmar's Most Vulnerable PopulationsThe country of Myanmar is facing many difficulties regarding the spread and effects of COVID-19. With a tattered healthcare system, warring states, a fragile economy and thousands of people displaced, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations are experiencing several risks. Displaced people living in detention camps, Rohingya Muslims and the poor disproportionately face the negative effects of COVID-19 in culmination with a declining economy.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Myanmar’s health system as one of the worst in the world. According to official data, about 40% of Myanmar’s population live below or close to the poverty line.

There is a limited number of doctors, with 6.1 doctors per 10,000 people. Additionally, there are as few as one doctor per 83,000 people in conflict-affected areas according to Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, there is little healthcare or medical facilities in rural areas, where most of Myanmar’s population lives. That makes it extremely difficult for people to seek medical assistance and testing for COVID-19, and estimate the number of coronavirus cases.

Ethnic Conflict

In addition to a poor healthcare system, Myanmar is also riddled with the conflict between the government and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Fighting in areas such as the Rakhine state and Chin state prevents any possible COVID-19 relief and government aid.

Additionally, the government has put mobile internet restrictions in place in response to the armed conflicts. Lack of accessible internet limits information about the virus along with access to medical services, preventing people from knowing the government’s response to COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves.

The Vulnerable

It is at a time like this that minorities and threatened groups are the most vulnerable. Many aid workers fear that on top of inadequate resources and poor living conditions, the virus could exacerbate hostile emotions towards minorities and targeted groups in Myanmar.

Groups such as displaced persons and the Rohingya Muslims face difficult obstacles in receiving medical treatment or preventative measures against the COVID-19 virus.

Displaced People

According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 350,000 displaced people in Myanmar, and 130,000 people living in detention camps in the Rakhine state. Military conflict between the government and ethnic armed groups mainly caused these people’s displacement. Living conditions are dismal in these camps, with little to no resources for treating or preventing COVID-19. There is limited access to clean water, toilets and medical services. Diseases are common and according to a Human Rights Report, “in such camps, one toilet is shared by as many as 40 people, [and] one water access point by as many as 600.”

The Rohingya Muslims

The Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority group, is one of Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations. They have been living in detention camps after experiencing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has restricted their freedom of movement, and the Rohingya Muslims live in squalid camp conditions. There are only two health centers available, both unequipped to test and treat COVID-19.

Living conditions are extremely cramped. According to a Forbes article, one of the refugee camps, Kutupalong, houses “almost 860,000 refugees. They are more densely populated than New York, with more than 100,000 people living in each square mile.” With people living in such close proximity to one another, the spread of COVID-19 through the Rohingya Muslims is inevitable.

Economic Effects on the Poor

COVID-19 also negatively impacts Myanmar’s economy. As a consequence, it has exacerbated poverty and lowered living conditions. According to the International Growth Centre and World Bank Open Data, Myanmar had the lowest per capita GDP in Southeast Asia in 2018.

Furthermore, because Myanmar’s economy largely relies on international investment and exported goods such as garment products, COVID-19’s disruption on the world economy has caused Myanmar to further suffer.

Especially affected by the economic decline are poor workers and households. Groups such as “street and mobile vendors and various day-rate workers in urban areas, and the landless and day-rate workers in rural areas” experience adverse effects as income, food security and employment decline, according to the International Growth Centre.

In the face of the COVID-19 virus, Myanmar suffers many challenges that make preventing and treating the virus extremely difficult. In all of this, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations – the displaced, the Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar’s poor – are at the greatest disadvantage. Although there have been efforts by the government to provide financial aid for preventative measures and help from humanitarian organizations, it is not enough. These vulnerable groups are still hugely at risk from COVID-19.

Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts about Poverty in Myanmar
Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia and is one of many developing countries facing the same issues as those on other continents. Poverty in Myanmar could resolve through greater access and investment in resources such as food and safe drinking water. Here are five facts about poverty in Myanmar.

5 Facts About Poverty in Myanmar

  1. Living Under $1 Per Day. In Myanmar, the percentage of those living on less than $1 per day was 24.8% in 2017. Although this is a large drop from 48.2% in 2005, there is still a long way to go to measure up to other developing countries. However, the Myanmar economy has improved since 1987 when ill-prepared monetary and fiscal policies sent the country into a depression.
  2. Wars with the Rohingya Muslims. One of the most significant and recent culture wars was with the Rohingya Muslims. This event happened only 3 years ago, with the Myanmar military burning down villages and abusing women. As a result, three out of four Rohingya Muslims had to leave their homes and find a new life.
  3. Maternal Mortality Rates. In 2017, the maternal mortality rate was 250, which is significantly better than in 2000, when the number was 340. Improved health care access was the main driver for saving Myanmar mothers. However, there is a lot of room for improvement.
  4. Agriculture Factor. Poverty in Myanmar persists because of farming. Farming is a profession that can serve as an economical boosting point and form a tax base for a more ambitious industry. A worker in Myanmar can only harvest 23 kg of rice per day. Additionally, this is around 20 kg less than in neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. Increasing agricultural output will promote self-sufficiency and political stability. There are many programs in place that try to provide such solutions through loans and community outreach. For example, the World Bank approved $200 million in loans to farmers that were facing increased animal feed prices and the inability to move food to local markets, hoping to prevent an economic contraction because of COVID-19.
  5. Access to Sanitation. Mobilizing local citizens to improve sanitation, improving health for small communities and limiting dependence on foreign aid can be extremely beneficial. That is what WASH (Wash, Sanitization and Hygiene) services aim to do. They give technologies such as anti-defecation water pumps and toilets to community centers. As a result, this improved conditions for more than 150,000 Myanmar citizens in 2018 alone. Such programs help in many other sectors than public health. Children stay in school longer when proper hand washing reduces disease. In addition, this creates even more positive effects in the country such as reduced poverty rate and maternal mortality rates.

Reducing poverty in Myanmar through actions such as improving access to proper sewage treatment is a manageable goal. All it takes is the improvement of existing infrastructure to make measurable and positive impacts on the world.

Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr

poverty and dictatorship
Among the 10 dictatorship countries profiled, poverty is endemic. Poverty alleviation in these 10 dictatorship countries is in some cases associated with human rights abuses, violent crackdowns on the political opposition and indigenous people. In the last two decades, however, some of these countries have moved towards embracing democracy, which has brought an influx of government institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and foreign investment working to promulgate poverty alleviation.

The State of Poverty in 10 Dictatorship Countries

  1. Cambodia – In June of 2018, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was officially qualified as a military dictator by Human Rights Watch. Through an environment of fear, Cambodia has been littered with human rights abuses, crackdowns on the opposition, coercion and repression of the media. In September of 2018, the United Nations Development Program stated that 35 percent of all Cambodians are still poor regardless of the decline in the Multidimensional Poverty Index. In 2006, the Ministry of Planning established the IDPoor Programme to guide government services and NGOs to provide target services and assistance to the poorest households. As of December 2017, The IDPoor Programme has assisted 13 million people and has covered 90 percent of Cambodians.
  2. Cameroon – Current Prime Minister, Paul Biya, seized control of Cameroon from his fellow despotic predecessor in 1982. Biya has since ruled the central African country with an iron fist. In 2014, 37.5 percent of the people were living in poverty. However, a development NGO called Heifer Cameroon has been playing a positive role in alleviating the strains of poverty for Cameroon’s most poor and vulnerable communities. Heifer Cameroon has assisted 30,000 families by spurring job creation among the rural poor through focusing on the dairy industry along with other livestock.
  3. Eritrea – Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, took power after its independence and has since entrapped his citizens in a cloud of fear. Furthermore, the nation was rocked by internal war, drought and famine. According to estimates of The World Bank, 69 percent of Eritrea’s population lives below the poverty line. Despite these conditions, Eritrea has drastically improved its public health conditions. Indeed since its liberation, life expectancy has increased by 14 years to 63 years. And over 70 percent of the population now has access to clean water, compared to just 15 percent in 1993.
  4. Ethiopia – In 2000, Ethiopia had one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, but by 2011, the poverty rate had fallen by 14 percent. In 2018, Ethiopia became Africa’s fastest growing economy in the sub-Saharan African region. However, some of the country’s development schemes have been wildly unpopular, such as the mass land-grab that is displacing Ethiopians so the government can lease out the land to foreign investors. On the other hand, some developments have actually made improvements in average household health, education and living standards.
  5. Madagascar – Madagascar has experienced a long period of political instability since its independence in the 1960s. Current President Hery Rajaonarimampianina was democratically elected in 2014. Rajaonarimampianina has prioritized recovering Madagascar’s relationship with foreign investment agencies, like The World Bank, IMF and The African Union. Unfortunately, in 2018, 75 percent of Madagascar’s population are still living under the poverty line.
  6. Myanmar – From 1966 to 2016, Myanmar existed under a military dictatorship that bore multiple wars spurred out of hatred and persecution of Rohingya Muslims and Christians. The crackdown and ethnic cleansing created a major refugee crisis. Today, Myanmar is reportedly inching towards democracy, but the military, headed by Gen. Than Shwe, still has major sway. In 2015, 35 percent of the population of Myanmar lived in poverty.
  7. Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s regime is often associated with maintaining peace and stability since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. However, critics of Kagame cite numerous human rights abuses and fear that the President is leading the country towards dictatorship. Still, Rwanda has taken major strides in addressing and decreasing the poverty rate. Between 2000 and 2010, the poverty rate declined by 23.8 percent. Recent economic growth within the country has been evenly distributed and pro-poor, with the majority of the Rwandan population benefiting from this economic growth.
  8. Sudan – President al-Bashir came to power in 1989 and reigned with a brutal dictatorship in Sudan until his exile in 2015. Poverty in Sudan is endemic. In 2018, 2.8 million were in need of humanitarian aid and 4.8 million were food insecure. Such high rates of poverty engender low literacy levels, crumbling infrastructure, little to no access to health services and high rates of food insecurity.
  9. Tunisia – President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali headed Tunisia’s dictatorship until 2011 when he was ousted by a people’s revolution. However, that stability was maintained by the military, which performed countless human rights abuses. However, poverty reduction strategies have rung successful as the poverty rate in Tunisia fell by 10 percent from 2000 to 2015.
  10. Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe, who was the President of Zimbabwe for 37 years until 2017, had long been seen as a dictator and is attributed by The Economist as “ruining” Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s policies led to hyperinflation and an infrastructure system in disrepair. Build Zimbabwe Alliance claims that 72 percent of the population still lives under the poverty line. The main causes of poverty in Zimbabwe are the economic recession of 2008 and global warming’s impact on agriculture.

These 10 dictatorship countries have taken strides in increasing access to education, healthcare and economic growth. Such programs have been most successful in regards to pro-poor poverty reduction. The political outlook of some of these countries is improving, but there is still a lot of work needed to improve poverty in all of the countries listed.

– Sasha Kramer

Photo: Flickr

Recent Genocides
Genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. Recent genocides have occurred in Sudan against 
Darfur’s ethnic Fur, Massalit, and Zhagawa peoples and in Myanmar against its Rohingya minority.

Tensions Continue as a Result of Sudanese Genocides

Since gaining independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1956, Sudan has struggled to find peace between its Muslim northern regions and its animist and Christian southern regions. Continuous conflict led to the creation of an autonomous South Sudan, but tensions persist. Civil wars in the region have taken an estimated 2.5 million lives and displaced approximately four million people.

Beside the warring north and south of Sudan, recent genocides have occurred in a western part of the nation known as Darfur. In February 2003, rebel groups led by predominantly by non-Arab Muslim sedentary tribes, including the Fur and Zaghawa, rose up against the Khartoum government due to unequal treatment and economic marginalization. In response, the government sent militias known as Janjaweed, which translates to “evil men on horseback,” whose duties were to carry out attacks on villages. The Janjaweed used slash and burn methods to decimate communities as well as injuring and murdering civilians and poisoning wells.

The Darfurian genocide was the first genocide of the 21st century and its unrest and violence have not yet ceased. As of 2016, more than 480,000 people have been murdered and more than 2.8 million people have been displaced. Many refugees have fled Sudan and some have been living in camps for more than 10 years.

Recent Genocides in Myanmar Draw Global Attention

Myanmar, the nation formerly known as Burma, lived under the governance of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011. The government is now under civilian control, but the military continues to wield extensive power and commit human rights abuses. Its population is mostly Buddhist with large Christian and Muslim minorities.

Two-thirds of Myanmar’s people identify as Burmese or Bamar, but there are 135 ethnic minorities residing in the country. The Christian Karen people and the Muslim Rohingya people of Myanmar have faced long-standing systemic violence and oppression from the Buddhist government. Aid agencies estimate that 200,000 Karen have been driven from their homes in the decades of conflict and as recently as 2010 the government was still burning, shelling and abusively sweeping Karen villages.

The Rohingya Muslims have also had a long-standing history of genocide and statelessness. In 1982, the Burmese military stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship, claiming that they were Bengali despite their having lived in Burma’s Rakhine State for generations. This led to a mass migration of over 250,000 Rohingya people to Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992, but they were met with deportation once in Bangladesh and were forced to return to Burma.

The recent genocides of the Rohingya in Myanmar began in 2012 when political party officials, senior Buddhist monks and state security forces committed mass killings of men, women and children. The cleansing left 150,000 Rohingya homeless and more than 100,000 fled the country.

Even more recently, in August 2017, a small rebellion of Rohingya militants led to military retaliation against any and all Rohingya people. These attacks caused the largest refugee movement since the Rwandan genocide. More than 675,000 Rohingya fled the country within three months to seek safety in Bangladesh. As of January 2018, more than one million Rohingya refugees have been registered in Bangladesh.

Fulfilling the Promise to End Genocide Worldwide

Ethnic cleansing and genocide are not acts of the past. Religious and cultural minorities continue to face persecution and attempts at forced extinction. However, this does not mean that individuals elsewhere must simply be bystanders to such atrocities. Raising awareness about the genocides occurring in the world and donating time or money to organizations that work to end genocide can make an impact and ensure that the world does not turn a blind eye to those in danger.

The organization United to End Genocide states that one of the best ways for individuals to help prevent and stop genocide is to vote for representatives who support foreign aid and acknowledge global atrocities. Support representatives who make the end of genocide a priority.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Benefits From Foreign Aid to Myanmar
Myanmar (formerly Burma) was once considered an outcast from the international community due to the oppressive, military junta that held power from 1962 until the 21st Century. It was not until 2011 that the nation embarked on their multi-year journey towards political and economic reform. Slowly but surely, Myanmar has begun implementing reforms that work to dismantle its previous, exclusive regimes that were in power for nearly 50 years.


A big part of Myanmar’s quest for an inclusive, parliamentary democracy and creating a market-oriented economy has been dependent on United States aid. Not only does the U.S. have a commitment to helping Myanmar achieve its gradual liberalization, but there are also a variety of U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Myanmar. Myanmar has immense economic potential, given that they are resource-rich with access to large, growing markets. However, due to decades of systematic corruption, the vast majority of the population have not been receivers of economic prosperity.

One of USAID’s main focuses within its quest to provide foreign aid to Myanmar is the empowerment of small-scale farmers. With agriculture taking up 70 percent of employment, USAID has invested in both agriculture and food security to reduce hunger and poverty.

USAID hopes that these investments in broad-based agricultural growth will not only help Myanmar’s small-scale farmers improve their connection to end markets, but it will also help keep an agricultural epidemic at bay; an occurrence which in turn, helps keep the U.S. economy stable.

Myanmar and Agriculture

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Myanmar through this process, as when Myanmar’s agricultural production is healthy and efficient, the U.S. economy has the potential to thrive off purchases of agricultural equipment from U.S. manufacturers.

Currently, Myanmar’s agricultural industry depends on traditional manual labor, and it lack advanced technologies that can add value to their goods. This is why developing Myanmar’s agricultural business is important for the U.S., as when Myanmar is able to produce products like rice, which accounts for 60 percent of their production value, at much quicker speeds, the price has the potential to decrease for U.S buyers.

Rohingya Muslim Refugees

In addition to supporting Myanmar’s agricultural industry, the U.S also contributes nearly $32 million in humanitarian aid to the Rohingya Muslim refugees.

The Rohingya Muslim refugees are a marginalized group forced to seek refuge in camps after the 2012 Rakhine State riots. Their involuntary removable from the predominantly Buddhist nation was a necessary measure to escape the systematic violence and persecution in their home country of Myanmar.

This crisis has greatly jeopardized the U.S.-funded progress Myanmar made in its move away from harsh, military rule to its now democratic state.

U.S. and Internationalism

However, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Myanmar in this situation because it help calms international waters. Additionally, the distributed humanitarian aid funds are going a long way in helping these refugees, as it’s supplying food and medicalcare along with sanitation and shelter to a group in desperate need of support.

U.S.-funded aid to Myanmar is a huge factor in helping this developing nation regain full control of its political, economic and social states. Myanmar has already begun to see beneficial provisions that have shifted its connotation as an isolated economy to an invested focal point.

Road of Improvement

There has also been a rise in freedom of speech — in 2015, the country held its first free general elections since 1990. While there is still a continued military influence and weak points in parliamentary politics, the political trajectory of Myanmar is not one set in stone.

Patience is a key factor in allowing Myanmar to carefully and effectively regain control of its politics; it has been a strenuous past sixty years, and peace is not going to come overnight. With the continued help of the United States, both nations are on a likely road of positive improvements.

– Alexandra Dennis

Photo: Flickr

combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees
The Muslim Rohingya minority found in Myanmar have been systematically stripped of citizenship in bureaucratic ways, which has led to combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees.

In 1982, the ruling military junta put in place discriminatory citizenship laws in Myanmar. The law favors the country’s “national races” and excludes the Muslim Rohingya and several other ethnic minorities, automatically granting full citizenship to these “national races.” The national races include groups that were present in Myanmar before the British conquest in 1824.

Removing Rohingya Rights

Throughout past years in Myanmar, each form of ID was declared invalid and then taken from the Rohingya, replaced with a card that indicated fewer rights. The “white cards,” created in 1982, were temporary documents that left the Rohingya in legal limbo.

Currently, the authorities urge the Rohingya to apply for a “national verification card.” The new identification card is highly criticized because of the multistep citizenship process associated with the cards. Many Rohingya, in addition, don’t feel confident that they would have “full” citizenship or basic rights with the new cards.

Nurul Hoque and his family are Rohingya refugees that are fearful of these new cards. He holds on to his grandfather’s old and frail identity card from Myanmar from before the implementation of the discriminatory citizenship laws. This old document is a reminder of a life that he and his family had left behind in Myanmar.

Nick Cheesman, a political scientist at Australian International University, describes to DW that the deprivation of citizenship among Rohingya was not a result of the 1982 law but more an inaccurate implementation of the law.

United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and Combating Statelessness

In combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) has declared a worldwide effort to end statelessness by 2024. Around 10 million people in the world are denied citizenship, which causes many obstacles in obtaining basic rights.

To overcome statelessness, the UNHCR works with many other organizations to assemble and endorse more compelling solutions. It collaborates with other international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups, national human rights institutions and academic and legal associations. The United Nations General Assembly granted, through a series of resolutions in 1995, the UNHCR the formal approval to combat statelessness through identification, prevention, reduction and protection of stateless individuals.

The UNHCR believes that citizenship, or some structure of documented status within a state, is required for basic rights to be achieved. This statelessness determination status, though, is to give individuals an interim way to attain basic rights. The final goal is to end statelessness altogether.

United States Assistance to Myanmar

The United States humanitarian policy in Myanmar has been guided by the importance of protection of basic rights for refugees and asylum seekers. On September 20, 2017, the State Department allocated $28 million in humanitarian aid for displaced people in Bangladesh.

The overall objective for United States policy in Myanmar is to establish a democratically elected civilian government that recognizes human rights and civil liberties of all Myanmar citizens and residents, revealing another effort in combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees.

– Andrea Quade

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya MuslimsAs a minority group, Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to violence throughout the entirety of their existence. In what is being called “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”, more than 400 Rohingya Muslims were killed in Burma in the month of August 2017.

The extreme violence that they have been facing in Burma has caused almost 90,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in search of safety. The violence was reportedly set off by a group of Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts in the Burma state of Rakhine on August 25, 2017.

Rohingya militants are being blamed by Burmese officials for burning homes and killing civilians. However, rights monitors and Rohingya Muslims argue that the Burmese Army is using this claim to force them out of Burma.

Rohingya Muslims living in Burma do not receive full citizenship rights, and they often need to seek official permission to marry or travel outside of their villages.

The violence has prompted responses from various world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who brought the matter before the United Nations General Assembly this month. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also endorsed this call.

Zarif denounced the “global silence on continuing violence against Rohingya Muslims” saying that “international action [is] crucial to prevent further ethnic cleansing—UN must rally” in a post he made on Twitter.

Additionally, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been encouraging Burma to investigate the alleged atrocities against the Muslims of Rohingya.

According to a United Nations spokeswoman, the Rohingya Muslims are “probably the most friendless people in the world” as they have struggled to find safety or permanent civilization in any area of the world.

While the people are facing violence, rape and injustice carried out by the Burmese army, their attempts to flee Burma are often met with more violence and brutality by human traffickers and coast guards of other nations.

This month, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan filed a report that urged the Burmese government to restore citizenship rights, which were stripped in 1982, to the Rohingya.

Although conditions seem nearly hopeless for Rohingya Muslims living in Burma, world leaders are working together to support this minority group. Help for them is on the way, although it is in question whether it will arrive on time.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

In the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, displaced Rohingya Muslims face a severe health crisis as malnutrition spreads, and treatable illnesses and injuries go unattended.

The country’s recent history of ethnic tension has disfavored the minority Muslims, pushing them to regions along coastal Myanmar where many of the displaced are settled in refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has caught the attention of international aid organizations that set up medical centers and ration distribution facilities.

However, medical aid to the ostracized group was all but completely cut off by government officials who accused Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (Doctors Without Borders-Holland) of favoritism to Muslims in Myanmar, promoting anti-government sentiment, and ordered them to leave in February of 2014.

As a result of the expulsion, the 700,000 people that depended on MSF’s service were left without proper medical care. By late July, when the government declared that MSF could return, the Rohingya had already endured months of a bleak health crisis with no help to turn to.

In a Reuters report from one of the camps, Aisyah Begum told the story of her husband who was injured while working in the forest. The man would have been taken to the nearby MSF clinic had it been open. The couple was left with no other option but to drive two hours to the nearest private doctor in Maungdaw who then refused to help. The man eventually passed away from what was most likely a treatable infection.

Around the time MSF was granted permission to return, the United Nations publicly commented on the refugee camps’ inhumane conditions. Yanghee Lee of the UN human rights envoy for Myanmar released a 10 page report, calling the living situation of the camps’ inhabitants “deplorable,” noting concern that “the government’s plan for peaceful co-existence may likely result in a permanent segregation” of the two groups.

Ethnic tensions between the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the dominant Rakhine Buddhists spans back a few years. It erupted in 2012, leaving 200 dead and an estimated 140,000 internally displaced – 135,000 of which were Rohingya. The clash between the ethnic groups left the bitter taste of mistrust in the mouths of both sides, with one side much more disadvantaged than the other.

The Rohingya suffer from continued apathy and exclusion on part of the Rakhine, and face the threat of violent attacks if they cross the wrong person, keeping them isolated in their lacking communities. They essentially live as prisoners, eating only donated rice and chickpeas, fishing their protein from the nearby ocean.

Ethnic persecution is systemic in Myanmar, to the point where those in the minority group are not even recognized as citizens by the government. They are classified as illegal Bengali immigrants and therefore have no legal rights or representation. They severely lack the means to sustain themselves.

Conditions have reached such a critical point in recent years that tens of thousands have tried fleeing by boat. Human Rights Watch has accused the government of leading an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslims in Myanmar.

“By virtue of their legal status (or lack of), the Muslim community has faced and continues to face systematic discrimination, which includes restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registrations,” said Lee in her report.

Myanmar is a country of 55 million people. In sheer numbers alone, it is clear what the Rohingya are up against as the nation’s abhorred minority. Years of military rule subjected them to hard labor, rape, torture and relocation, extending from a 1982 citizenship law that declared them stateless. However, the increasingly democratic reform of its government brings some hope.

Many Rohingya retain complete skepticism of the future and MSF is “cautiously optimistic” about their invitation to return. However, it appears that the bind of Myanmar’s displaced Muslims may quickly improve with increased international attention and the possibility of greater involvement by the United States.

“We’re working to continually help address problems on the ground,” said Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Myanmar. “What we are doing out here is in anticipation of continued reform, although we need to remain patient as the country deals with increasingly difficult issues going forward.”

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Reuters, Helsinki Times, Al Jazeera
Photo: Reuters

In northern Malaysia, human traffickers were discovered holding Rohingya Muslims prisoner in houses. According to details from the prisoners, they were abused, demanding to be freed by ransom from their families and suffering from severe malnutrition.

Rohingya are Muslims from Burma and are one of the most oppressed minorities in the world; many have been killed and many have been forced to live the life of a refugee because of the violent mistreatment.

This is, unfortunately, far from the first human trafficking case this year.

Several raids on Malaysian houses have been organized within the past few months, one of which conducted in February, found four Rohingya men chained together in an apartment by iron links. These men had been attempting to flee Myanmar when human traffickers captured them as they attempted to escape by water.

These men were then caged, where they were not fed and suffered from severe malnourishment.

Relatives of the prisoners were willing to pay upwards of a $1,000 in order to have their family members released.

According to Reuters, Thai police said they also rescued hundred of Rohingya Muslims in January from a trafficking camp south of Thailand. The raid that prompted the rescue of the captives was part of an investigation to find those in charge of the human trafficking that keeps occurring through southern Thailand through Malaysia.

During the raid in January, three Thai males of whom police suspected to be ringleaders were arrested.

Malaysia is concerned that these most recent events will compromise their anti-human trafficking record and expose the insecurity of their borders, which is currently allowing thousands of illegal immigrants across despite the strong stance the Malaysian government has against illegal immigration.

In June, the United States State Department will be releasing a Trafficking In Persons report, which lists countries in order of their performance to counter human trafficking.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Reuters, Trust, The Malaysian Insider
Photo: Russiatrafficking

Rohingya Muslims are a stateless people.

Their homeland is in dispute; some argue that it is Bangladesh and others argue that it is Myanmar. The sitting government in Myanmar’s organized persecution of the Rohingya has caused hundreds of thousands to flee to other countries in any means that they are able.

A great number have fled to nearby Thailand assuming that they would be safe from deportation back to a state that does not recognize or want them; however, they were wrong.

The situation in Thailand for the Rohingya is not a welcome one. Since the early 2000s, the Rohingya have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar to any country that is close at hand. However, Thailand is not the sanctuary that it used to be for the Rohingya, according to Abdul Kalam, a Rohingya who has lived in Thailand after escaping forced labor in his home.

Kalam is the head of the Thailand’s Rohingya national organization. The plight of the Rohingya in Thailand is not widely known save for a brief international spotlight in 2009, when media captured boatloads of Rohingya refugees being towed back out to see by Thai naval ships.

The Rohingya are trapped in vicious circle.

Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that has indefinite imprisonment terms and due to this unusual fact, this is often the fate of those being detained by Thai authorities. A group of reporters filmed the appalling conditions that many Rohingya face while being indefinitely detained in Thailand.

The conditions that the Rohingya were found in are deplorable and it is a travesty that such treatment of human beings is still occurring. The cells that were being used as holding areas were designed to house just 15 men each, yet Thai authorities had placed 276 Rohingya men in them. The Thai government should be aiding the Rohingya in their escape from persecution; however, Thailand does not recognize the Rohingya as refugees.

The troubling news for the Rohingya in Thailand is compounded by the fact that reports document how the Thai government has been secretly selling Rohingya to human trafficking camps deep within the Thai jungle. Reuters found evidence of these camps and reported on the plight of the Rohingya trapped in them. Reuters presented one of Thailand’s highest police officials with the evidence that was uncovered about the camps and when asked, police Major-General Chatchawal Suksomjit, Deputy Commissioner General of the Thai Royal Police gave the startling reply that he indeed knew about the camps, but called them “holding cells.”

The plight of the Rohingya is known to the world, but little is being done by the United Nations or any other international aid group. The persecution that the Rohingya face at every turn in their struggle to cement their lives somewhere should be considered one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights in the 21st century.

There are many pressing issues occurring around the world every day, but people can exist in a world free of persecution for any peoples regardless of ethnic or religious status.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: BBC, Fox, Time, CNN, Reuters, IRIN, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Press TV