APHRThe Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar for centuries. The Rohingya follow Islam and have their own language and culture. In 2017, there were one million of the Rohingya population living in Myanmar. However, the government considered them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. The government targeted the Rohingya, leaving thousands fleeing as a result of discriminatory violence and abuse. However, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) works to help the Rohingya.

The Targeting of the Rohingya

The government officially forced the Rohingya out of Myanmar on August 25, 2017, by burning Rohingya villages and attacking and killing the population. Hundreds of thousands had to flee by sea or foot. A minimum of 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under 5, died in the month after the conflict occurred. Furthermore, at least 288 villages burned down in northern Rakhine State.

In January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocidal attacks. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied all allegations of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a network of parliamentarians promoting democracy and advocating for human rights in Southeast Asia. Founded in June 2013, the APHR’s mission is to create a safe place where all people can live without fear of violence and discrimination. Specifically, the APHR focuses on preventing democratic and human rights violations.

The APHR is an organization consisting of public figures in positions of power working with government officials and upholding political freedom. The APHR targets public figures and organizations based on specific strengths and the ability to persuade. The organization emphasizes the importance of international relations and environmental sustainability. Founding members include Charles Chong from Singapore, Son Chhay from Cambodia and Walden Bello from the Philippines.

The APHR works to implement democracy and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief programs. The organization brings officials together through workshops, forums and conferences while working with the United Nations, parliaments, international governments, communities, shareholders and grassroots actors.

The APHR in Myanmar

The APHR is currently focused on assessing regional response to the Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine State in Myanmar and holding the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, accountable for the recent attack on Armed Forces Day. Tens of thousands of people protested in support of democracy in Myanmar and security forces responded by killing 114 people, including children, on March 27, 2021. The APHR called upon the international community to take action against these atrocities.

The APHR members spoke to refugees to gather information on the human rights violations being experienced by the Rohingya in Myanmar as well as the situation in Bangladesh that led them to flock to Myanmar. The APHR requests that Myanmar’s government allow U.N. agencies and others looking to provide humanitarian assistance access to the northern Rakhine State. Journalists should be allowed to investigate and report accurately on the abuses happening, and “impartial and independent” investigations leading to fair trials seeking reparations ought to take place.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has worked effortlessly to help many other people and causes in addition to the Rohingya people. Overall, the APHR shows its dedication and commitment to protecting the most vulnerable populations.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

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

stateless groups
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the internationally recognized legal definition of a stateless person is “a person who is not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law.” A person or a group of people with the status of “stateless” usually means they are not allowed to get an education at school, see a doctor, get a job or have access to other basic human rights within a nation.

Some people are born stateless; other groups become stateless if their government does not establish them as nationals that have representation under state law.

Here is a list of five currently stateless groups in the world:


1. The Rohingya

The Rohingya are a group of Muslims of South Asian descent that populate western Myanmar and Bangladesh. Myanmar’s government pushed many Rohingya out of Myanmar, which is how they ended up in Bangladesh and other nearby regions. Myanmar, dominantly Buddhist, doesn’t want to accept this ethnic group into their nation. As a result, many Rohingya suffer from intense discrimination, hatred and unkind deaths. With nowhere and no one to support them, the Rohingya are completely dependent on foreign aid.


2. The Roma

While the exact origin of Roma is unknown, it is certain that this group of people arrived in Europe prior to the ninth century. Historically, many Roma were forced into slavery and sentenced to death throughout the medieval era for being “heathens.” They, alongside the Jews, were persecuted and forced into labor camps during World War II. Today, millions of Roma live in isolated slums without running water or electricity. There is a great health disparity among the population, but governments have kept them at the brink of death without offering help.


3. The Nubians

The Nubians, originally from Sudan, were brought to Kenya over 150 years ago when the British government asked them to fight in the colonial army; since then, they haven’t been able to return home. Today, Kenya will not grant Nubians basic citizenship rights so this group lives in one of the largest slums on Earth despite trying to receive title rights to land and seeking solutions to their disparity.


4. The Bidoon

In the state of Kuwait, the Bidoon is one of the stateless groups attempting to break free from the status of “illegal residents.” The Bidoon are descendants of the Bedouin people, a desert-dwelling Arabian ethnic group. They have tried and failed dozens of times to gain official recognition in Kuwait; instead of citizenship, they are told to seek residency elsewhere.


5. The Yao

The Yao is one of many Thailand hill tribes that don’t have a Thai citizenship. This means they can’t vote, buy land or seek legal employment. The Thai government has previously granted temporary citizenship to a select few, but this is after they go through a strenuous process to prove they should be granted a pass.

These five stateless groups — Rohingya, Roma, Nubians, Bidoon and Yao — are just a select few from an extensive list. In total, there are more than 10 million people that are denied a nationality; however, the UNHCR made an announcement that they hope to end statelessness by 2024. On their website, viewers can sign the #IBelong campaign in order to show support. If successful, this will not only grant millions of men, women and children a nationality, but it will also grant increased access to clean food and water, healthcare, jobs, education and so much more.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr

Senator John McCain Takes a Stand Against Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of the Rakhine State of Burma, also known as Myanmar. 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.”

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 Burma. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference with the ethnic cleansing in Burma, stating, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick, 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. Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; however, she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Burma was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, a minority group within Burma‘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 Burmese police and military officials.

Approximately 270,000 Rohingya people have fled Burma in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya people remain displaced throughout Burma. However, the Burmese government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities like 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 Burmese government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi’s silence has had 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 misplaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is particularly important for pregnant women and young children. Also, the WFP’s nutritious food has slightly lessened the risk for disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, as nutritious foods help to strengthen the immune system.

The Rohingya people still remain displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, the WFP’s food delivery to the Rohingya people, and Senator McCain’s address, are important beginning steps to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Muslims in MyanmarAs the world has begun to pay more attention to the refugee crisis concerning Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the problem with State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s response—or lack thereof—has come under scrutiny.

The refugee crisis only illuminates the persecution of Rohingya that has been going on for decades. The U.N. reported that government troops in Myanmar have committed crimes against the minority Muslim population—such as murder, rape and arson—that have made living in their home country impossible.

Furthermore, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have been denied citizenship since 1982, and are not considered to be one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups.

While the military in the country denies such allegations, thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar, hoping to find an escape from the brutality that has taken over their lives. Most Rohingya flee to neighboring countries, but the brutality against the refugees has not stopped, only transitioned from one predator to another. Aljazeera reports that the head of the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM) is “concerned” about the violence taking place in Bangladesh against the minority Muslim population, and has every right to be.

The violence is reported to be sexual in nature and gender-targeted, which only solidifies the concerns held by world leaders that Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi is not going to openly oppose the violence being carried out by citizens of her country against the Rohingya. In fact, the State Chancellor has refused to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing for quite some time.

Human rights groups and the U.N. have called on the State Chancellor to take action and stop the senseless murder of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Unfortunately, the politics of the situation are more complicated than it may seem.

The BBC reports that under Myanmar’s constitution, the military is a very powerful entity that prevents Myanmar from taking steps towards democracy. Despite calls by international leaders and human rights groups for Aung San Suu Kyi to denounce the violence, it is ultimately the military’s stronghold over the government that has prevented her from speaking out.

Still, many believe that the State Chancellor should be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991.

Finally, after an unusual period of silence, the State Chancellor addressed the violence. Amid the confusion and horror that has become everyday life for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has stated the Rohingya will be allowed to return to their home country.

The road home is seemingly far-off—a result of the military’s targeted violence towards their homes, crops and other resources essential for the Rohingya’s survival in Myanmar. However, many in the international community believe the recent attention drawn to the ethnic cleansing will have a positive effect and save the lives of those who need help.

For this reason, it is imperative that the world does not forget about the genocide occurring against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The international community must pay attention and provide any support necessary.

Jaxx Artz

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 Rohingya Muslims 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 Rohingya Muslims 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 Muslims of Rohingya.

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

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

How to Help Rohingya Refugees
Myanmar’s treatment of their Rohingya population is under investigation for human rights violations. Approximately 1.1 million Rohingya, an Muslim ethnic minority, live in the Myanmar (also known as Burma), a predominantly Buddhist country. Many in Myanmar view Rohingya as intruders from Bangladesh. Though Bangladesh does host many Rohingya refugees, they do not recognize them as citizens. The Rohingya are a stateless people.

Almost all of Rohingya live in Rakhine state in northern Myanmar. With rising violence in Rakhine in 2016, Myanmar’s government increased its military presence. The UN recorded details of alleged abuses by security forces in Rakhine, which included mass gang rape, killings, beatings and disappearances. Some UN officials have characterized the abuses as ethnic cleansing. With recent increases in military deployment, thousands of Rohingya have fled across the border into Bangladesh.

The Rohingya people, who historically lack allies, are experiencing extreme abuses. This can change. Here are some ways to help Rohingya refugees.

  1. Call Congress. The United States has a relationship with Myanmar that could be crucial in addressing these issues. Since 2012, the United States has provided development assistance to Myanmar to help their democratic transition. Over 3.8 million dollars were committed in the past few years. In 2016, President Barack Obama terminated the state of emergency that had been in place since 1997 with respect to Myanmar. This lifted a range of economic and financial sanctions, and made way for a bilateral economic relationship between the two countries.Constituents have the ability to voice their concerns, requesting that this relationship should be contingent on ending the persecution of Rohingya. You can voice that the Myanmar government must be held accountable.
  2. Donate. There are several organizations working to help Rohingya refugees. In collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Islamic Relief USA is working to provide relief and humanitarian assistance to internal refugees in the Rakhine State. This relief includes health services, emergency shelter and food aid.Burma Task Force USA is a united effort of American Muslims advocating for Rohingya refugees within the U.S. They meet with American officials, do media and cultural outreach, hold conferences and meet with human rights leaders.


    There are also larger organizations like UNICEF, Save the Children and World Vision working to help refugees    worldwide.

  3. Spread the Word. “The Rohingya are probably the most friendless people in the world. They just have no one advocating for them at all”, said UNCHR spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey in 2009.The refugee crisis, especially in the Middle East, is a widely publicized topic, though the persecution of the Rohingya people has not received the same attention.

    To draw attention to the current crisis, people who want to help Rohingya refugees can speak up about the situation in Myanmar when discussing refugee rights. Ways to help Rohingya refugees include sharing links on social media, staying informed on current events and getting involved with migrant advocacy.

It is possible to help end the years of persecution face by the Rohingya people. The international community has the power to hold the government of Mynmar accountable and provide resources for refugees.

Domestically, we can protect and advocate for our refugee programs. From 2008-2014, more than 117,000 refugees from Myanmar were resettled in the United States. As a country, we have the ability to provide shelter for vulnerable and abused people the world over.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Flickr

Insurgency in Myanmar: Examining
There has been an uptick in an insurgent group activity in Myanmar the past few months. A new insurgency group within the Rohingya community named Harakah al-Yaqin has been carrying out attacks in the Rakhine state. This is a small yet important economic area within Myanmar that has a large Muslim population located within a country that is mainly Buddhist.

According to a Stratfor report, the Rohingya have long been a marginalized group in Myanmar society. They are not granted full citizenship and are accused of not being Myanmar at all, but rather recent Bengali immigrants.

The group demands are more ethnic-based rather than being steeped in political Islam. They are asking for government recognition as citizens and equal rights, but with no mention of Sharia law which differentiates them from other Islamist insurgencies. The scope of what is an insurgency depends on what the goal of that group ends up being.

With insurgencies varying from movement to movement, it is important to determine what is an insurgency. A recent paper by Aaron Young & David Gray seeking to define the term looks at likely causes and examines possible solutions. They believe that an insurgency is bound to political constraints. They define what is an insurgency by the challenging of these political aspects:

  1. The integrity of borders and composition of the nation-state
  2. The political system
  3. The authorities in power
  4. The policies that determine who gets what in societies

They believe that terrorism is only an option utilized by insurgencies if they fail on achieving their political goals. Over the years, though, the inclusion of guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics have served the purpose of demoralizing their opposition which can sometimes equate to an accelerated victory of their political goals.

Gray reports that “through proper management of social services and welfare programs, the needs of insurgent masses can be met. Only by the willingness of cooperation by the state and insurgent forces can a unified agreement be reached, considering that is a goal of the organization.”

Economic factors are important to squash an insurgency according to Mr. Gray. His research has led him to believe that by including indigenous and minority groups into economic development instead of complete control by the ruling party can be key to defeating the underlying current of an insurgency. And that the only way an insurgency can continue is if economic conditions remain the same or worsen. He states “by increasing regional utilization and production of viable resources, unemployment reductions, giving the masses both a sense of control of their own destinies and increases in the distribution of wealth has the effect of reducing strife and discontent.”

The Myanmar government reportedly has very little interest in including the Rohingya population into future economic growth. There are politically motivated fears that any softening towards the Muslim population may lead to a change in power facilitated by an angry Buddhist majority electorate. Young & Gray would argue the exact opposite approach to ending the unrest currently occurring in Myanmar.

Brian Faust

Photo: Flickr

Thailand’s Fishing Industry Linked to Slavery
Thailand, one of the two countries down-graded last month on the U.S. human trafficking watch list has failed at protecting the population from being forced into slavery. As officials turn the other cheek, boys and men are trapped in a nightmare, laboring miserably on decrepit fishing vessels for prawns sold to British and American supermarkets.

The U..S Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report (TiP), which evaluates countries based on their success in combating the activities of traffickers in their jurisdiction, down-graded Thailand from Tier 2 to Tier 3, the worst possible rating, focusing the world’s attention on their lack of effort in fighting slavery.

According to an investigation conducted by The Guardian, the extensive role played by Thai authorities, fishermen and traffickers has been uncovered with the imprisonment of thousands of Rohingya in illegal, deadly jungle camps.

The Rohingya are Indo-Aryan peoples from the Rakhine State, Myanmar, who speak the Rohingya language. In recent years, Myanmar has been accused of human rights violations and ethnic cleansing instigated by the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist, victimizing the stateless Muslim Rohingya through looting, arson, evictions and outright cold-blooded murder. For many Rohingya the choice was simple: stay and die, or leave by boat.

The Rohingya attempting to escape the violence have no option but to flee to the seas, seeking passage by boat down the coast of Thailand to relative safety in Malaysia, but in many cases, these refugees were intercepted and sold like animals into slavery on the Thai fishing boats. Often victims were escorted into jungle camps by Thai authorities where they were held in transit.

The Thai fishing industry is a multibillion-dollar business estimated at $7.3 billion a year. The slavery trade hidden behind the frozen shrimp packages on the shelves of Tesco, Walmart, Carrefour and Costco stores is so profitable that many fishermen in Thailand have converted their ships to carry Rohingya migrants instead of fish, increasing profits in some cases by 230%.

According to The Guardian, testimony from survivors, brokers and human rights groups have indicated that hundreds of Rohingya men were sold from a network of jungle slavery camps in southern Thailand. Rohingya migrants actually sold from these camps said operations were conducted in full awareness of government officials, and, in many cases, they were directly involved.

The Guardian reported that the jungle camps were often open-air prisons in which Rohingya captives were held for ransom, their captors demanding money far out of reach of their families. Survivors described being raped and tortured as well as witnessing others beaten to death.

In May 2015, Thai and Malaysian investigators discovered several jungle prisons and mass graves used as holding pens for trafficking operations.

Thailand is facing unprecedented pressure from the global community. The European Union gave Thailand six months to crack down on illegal fishing and labor abuses or face a trade ban, which could result in Thailand losing up to €1 billion ($1.1 billion) a year in seafood exports.

In the wake of Thailand’s drop on the human trafficking watch list, Thailand seems to be attempting to fight the human atrocities poisoning the country and has announced tougher legislation to address trafficking. However, according to Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, little has been seen, and no evidence of real improvement has been realized.

– Jason Zimmerman

Sources: MSN, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: CNN

In late May 2015, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees were stranded on the open ocean. The governments of nearby countries didn’t want them. Amidst this humanitarian crisis and fatal government hesitation, local Acehnese Indonesian fishermen saved thousands of refugees.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi’s have fled their native homeland; the Rohingyas face political persecution that mirrors Apartheid South Africa, and Bangladeshis face seemingly inescapable poverty. Over 120,000 Rohingyas have left in the past three years, and just this year, 25,000 Rohingyas have fled.

In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, the Rohingyas are persecuted, and have been since the 1970s. They are not recognized as citizens and are “subjected to forced labour, have no land rights, and are heavily restricted,” says BBC. This March, the government took away the Rohingya’s right to vote.

The Rohingyas are an Islamic ethnic group. They are said to be descended from Muslim traders who settled in the region over 1,000 years ago, but the Myanmar government persists the Rohingyas are actually Bengali migrants— subjecting them to severe inequality.

It is due to this severe oppression that thousands of Rohingyas have fled Myanmar via boat. Rohingyas have paid smugglers in the past few years to transport them to safer countries, like Indonesia or Malaysia.

This year, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries that Rohingyas flee to cracked down on the influx of refugees, refusing to admit them.

For this reason, many refugees were left stranded by smugglers in the middle of the ocean. Other smugglers turned out to be traffickers, who held the migrants hostage in the ocean, attempting to pressure impoverished family members into paying for their stranded loved ones.

None of the countries in the region were willing to help them, and governments told local fishermen not to help stranded refugees.

“The focus should be on saving lives, not further endangering them,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Thailand and Indonesia turned away boats from their shores. Malaysia ordered its navy to keep the boats away. The United Nations has issued a statement that it is “appalled” by the foreign policy of these nations.

Chris Lewa, an advocate for the Rohingya activist group, described the attitude of neighboring countries as “extremely unwelcoming. Unlike European countries – who at least make an effort to stop North African migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean – Myanmar’s neighbours are reluctant to provide any assistance.”

Human Rights Watch accused Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia of playing “human ping pong” with boats by refusing to let people in and by pushing boats back out to international waters.

Thousands of boat people were stranded at sea with little food and water and no place to land. “For more than two months we were in the boat, we were only given little food and we were beaten when we asked for more,” said Mohamad Ali, a Bangladeshi migrant to BBC.

Mohammad Idiris, a 25-year-old from Myanmar was held on a crowded ship for 6 months, said he was “beaten regularly by human traffickers who demanded a ransom from his parents that they couldn’t pay,” reported the IRIN. “I didn’t know it was going to be like this. If I had known, I would have stayed in Myanmar. We feel happy here, because the Acehnese people are treating us as brothers, but we are still worried about our families in Myanmar.”

Despite government wishes, Indonesians from the Aceh region rescued around 2,000 stranded boat people. “We helped them because they needed help. What is more human than that?” said Mansur, a Acehnese fisherman, in an interview with The Guardian.

The people of Aceh themselves have suffered intense violence and devastation in the past; they were caught in violence between the Indonesian government and separatist rebels, as well as the tsunami of 2004 in the early 2000s. For this reason, the Aceh people were very welcoming.

The fishermen worked together, pulling refugees from boat to boat, taking multiple trips and providing food and water on shore. Suryadi, an Aceh fisherman, told The Guardian, “We helped out of solidarity. If we find someone in the ocean we have to help them no matter who they are. The police did not like us helping but we could not avoid it. Our sense of humanity was higher. So we just helped with the limited resources that we had at the time.”

Aceh even put on a concert to raise money for the refugees. Rafly, a popular local singer, performed “Pemulia Jamee,” a traditional Acehnese ceremony, to honor guests. Rafly is also a senator, and plans to advocate for the refugees to stay in Aceh in the future.

“I really wish they will stay permanently in Aceh. I have lobbied the governor of Aceh on this matter and will raise it with the head of the senate,” he tells IRIN.

The future for the Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees is uncertain. Bangladeshis may be returned to Bangladesh once they are identified, though they return to an unwelcome government. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called the stranded boat people “mentally sick” for leaving, and claimed they are “tainting the image of the country.”

Myanmar recently created a program to give citizenship back to the Rohyingas; however, it forces the Rohingyas to list their ethnicity as Bengali, so it is heavily opposed. The Rohingyas are not welcome in Myanmar. Today around 140,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar live in camps; they cannot return to their villages, which were burned by Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 violence that killed over 200 people.

After a large amount of chaos, conflict and devastating waiting, Malaysia and Indonesia finally agreed to let refugees shelter on their shores, as long as they are relocated within a year. However, this was only after local Indonesian fishermen went directly against the wishes of their government to help save extremely vulnerable refugees.

Margaret Mary Anderson

Sources: BBC, IRIN News , The Guardian
Photo: IRIN News