The indigenous Rohingya population that have lived long in Rakhine state in northern Myanmar, have been dubbed by the UN among the most persecuted peoples in the world. Estimates vary but the latest round of fighting between Rohingya guerillas and the Myanmar army has produced as many as 87,000 (as reported by the UN) refugees being taken in by Bangladesh — to where many had already fled anyway. The Foreign Office has issued a strong statement urging the government of Myanmar to protect the rights of the Rohingya — the faintest of possibilities — and there is an emerging criticism of Nobel laureate and veteran peace campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, who now is the defacto leader of the Myanmar government for her not condemning the violence inflicted upon the Rohingya.
This is a problem that has sat in the global ‘pending’ tray for decades, but is now a bubbling cauldron of human misery. The Rohingya are an anomaly that nobody wants to own, but Bangladesh is now the port of last resort and aid agencies are saying that they are struggling to meet this new need. Much of Bangladesh is already trying to cope with the humanitarian disaster that is monsoon generated, and the refugees from Rakhine merely add to the complexity. Ankara has offered to pay Dhaka for the living expenses of Rohingya refugees.
Also complex is the shift in attitudes to Aung San Suu Kyi, long a lighting-rod for civil rights and the rights of minorities. For many she is moving towards the ‘villain’ end of the spectrum and away from the ‘hero’ end she long occupied. Tapping her foot very publicly is another Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai, who has issued a statement in support of the Rohingya Muslims — not the first time she has done this — and called on Myanmar to give citizenship to them. These two women, generations apart but both custodians of a Nobel prize, are heavyweights in that they have a global voice that tends to be listened to. For Malala this is going to be a ‘where I stand’ moment, and she may be the youthful nemesis of Suu Kyi. As for this newspaper — we stand with the Rohingya.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2017.
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