While countries across the Western world are busy bickering over the highly politicised influx of migrant families from Syria and Iraq, a lesser-known humanitarian crisis is brewing in the heart of Southeast Asia.
A forgotten silent minority known as the Rohingyas, who are effectively stateless, continue to endure appalling conditions in closely guarded camps in countries that refuse to accord them rights as humans, let alone refugees.
In Myanmar, where it all started, apartheid-esque laws deprive the minority Muslim community of basic rights forcing them to take the grim decision to sail eastward on dingy boats run by smuggling cartels infamous for abuse and rape. While most Syrian migrants land on Europe’s shores and acquire some form of acceptance, the unwanted Rohingya diaspora land in neighbouring Thailand and Malaysia, even as both countries refuse to accept them.
During their perilous journey, many perish at sea. Those who survive the dismal conditions are often swept into syndicates involved in human trafficking.
But through it all, the plight of this persecuted minority group has been brushed under the proverbial carpet by the very champions of human rights, who for so long have rallied for freedom in Myanmar.
Even now as Myanmar cautiously redeems itself from the junta regime that will tentatively be dismantled later this year when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party takes over the reins, there is little hope that the idolised leader and a self-proclaimed voice of the oppressed might protect the Rohingyas against the ire of radical Buddhists who enjoy absolute impunity in the country.
In maintaining their silence over the macabre story of brutal extermination, Suu Kyi and members of her party, the National League for Democracy, have lent their support to the Buddhist clergymen who have subjected the Rohingyas to systematic ethnic cleansing. Her party’s promise to heal a country divided along religious lines might just ring hollow and her pledge to change Myanmar’s destiny may not extend to the minority Muslim group.
Despite being cheered by Western democracies, Myanmar has a long road to recovery. The Rohingyas are still considered unwanted foreigners at home and an international pariah across the region. So before the onset of the next sailing season, pro-human rights nations must re-evaluate their priorities and address this simmering humanitarian crisis before it’s too late.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2016.