“There is no hope for Rohingyas in Burma”; wrote a son in a letter to his mother from Malaysia where he was trafficked. This is what echoes in the hearts of Rohingya Muslims who live in Burma and those who have fled.
Rohingya Muslims are the most ” persecuted ethnic minority” in the world according to a report published by the United Nations and the ” largest stateless group in the world” according to the Organization Refugees International.
25 years and still counting, Rohingyas have been fighting a lost battle for decades now. The government refuses to grant citizenship to a population of 1.1million Muslims, under the Burma Citizenship Act 1982, which states that to acquire citizenship, they have to prove their ancestry since before 1982. In a Buddhist majority country, these 10% have been denied a right to identity.
The state sponsored mass exodus of the Rohingya Muslims stems out of hatred and an irrational fear. “The regime is playing on people’s fears that without this current leadership in power, the country will be overrun by Muslim minorities and Muslim extremists,” said Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, a division of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).
Clashes between Rakhine Buddhist monks and muslims date back to 70s but a clamour followed after two Muslim men allegedly raped a Buddhist woman in 2012. Widespread violence and extermination engulfed the whole country thereon, either state assisted or through sheer ignorance.
Since then, justice drags its feet.
Lands were plundered, women raped, children set ablaze and men speared; unimaginable horror ensued, ripping lives apart for Rohingyas. The government displaced more than 1,00,000 people and stacked them like bricks in dingy camps. On being interviewed, Rohingyas sang songs of misery and destitution, citing living conditions as slow death.
This country is imprisoned by thoughts so volatile that they don’t want the sun to shine brighter. Thein Sein the president says that they cannot allow such disruptive illegal migrants in the country and the only solution available would be if UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) sets up refugee camps for them and provides regular aid.
In 2009, a senior Burmese envoy to Hong Kong branded them as ” ugly as ogres” and people who are alien to Burma.
Often called ‘ Bengalis’ or ‘Bangladeshis’, Rohingyas are being forced out like pests. Fleeing persecution, desperation and decay; they are now asylum seekers. Posing a question to the world and its leaders, as to why them? Why no one is coming to their rescue? and will they ever see an end to this?
Nearly , 800,000 Rohingyas are either living in camps inhabitable or have fled and landed in ghettos of hell. The most ” unwanted group of people”, with their own country hurling stones at them; are at a verge of a genocide.
Scores of Rohingyas are trafficked in boats to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. What erodes the foundation of humanity is the fact that all these neighbouring countries have either met them with a lukewarm response or have shut their doors to them, leaving them at god’s mercy.
The deeply predatory environment back in Burma restricts them to return or even if they do, they die due to starvation, diseases and even thirst. Rohingyas are kept in rat holes, showing them their place in the society. They do not have access to medical facilities, children only study three subjects, no occupational opportunity presents itself and men are allowed to go to the market twice a week for trade. Such apartheid-like conditions have only battered Rohingyas’ belief in their god.
Human trafficking has become an ugly part of their perils. Traffickers hoard the asylum seekers after charging them huge amount of money and sail across the Bay of Bengal to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. The horror accounts of Rohingyas are unmentionable plights that are both nerve wrecking and thought provoking.
Women and children face sexual exploits whereas men are starved and weakened so that they are unable to rebel and overpower the few traffickers on board.
In an interview given to a reporter of The Guardian, a Rohingya woman in a refugee camp in Thailand recounted that , men and women were kept at different decks and women were used as play toys. She said, ” a beautiful 12 year old girl would be taken into the bathroom everyday and her shrilling cries would often make women wail and men reminiscent of their helplessness. She was not allowed to de-board the vessel.”
In another shocking incident, a woman unfolded a dreadful scene,” We saw them throw an eight months pregnant woman in sea when she fainted due to thirst.”
In many a instances, old and invalid were thrown overboard as others raised voices in their defence. Men who looked strong were speared or mutilated to instil fear among others.
Such horrific tales behold in them the extend of barbarism that takes over humankind.
Women were given food once a day, whereas men were given once in three days. They would be made to beg for water and beaten at every instance. BBC reporters reported that men were not only beaten when they asked for water or food but also if they moved an inch. ” They looked for excuses to hit us. Even if someone coughed, he was whipped like a dog. ” said a Rohingya in a refugee camp in Thailand when interviewed.
But refugees are money laundering machines for the traffickers so they, though beat them black and blue, try to keep them alive as they are paid for every person. ” A man jumped into the sea to put an end to his misery but traffickers rescued him, tied him to a pole and beat him till he learned his lesson” said another refugee.
Human traffickers extort huge amount of money from the families of people they hoard and if they fail to pay, the captured are either killed or sold as slaves to neighbouring countries. Referred to as ‘ boat people’ , these refugees have witnessed hell on earth. Once sold, they are made to work inhumanely, several have perished under such circumstances. Women are sold for prostitution and men for labour.
Festering poverty and destitution makes a mortal desperate. This is how traffickers take advantage of those seeking rehabilitation. Many are lured into boats for better future prospects. Boats are then aligned not far from the coast and money is collected. A couple narrated their ordeal, “We knew our son was on a migrating vessel when he didn’t come home for three days. The traffickers called us one day and demanded huge amount of money in barter for our son’s life. We sent them all we could by selling our house and possessions ; they sent our son sans his limbs.” as reported by Reuters.
Many a times, vessels have been found adrift in sea, abandoned by traffickers when negotiations with parties in other countries fall apart or raids are conducted by security forces.
The transit camps , Rohingyas are put in are dens of darkness that claims more lives than it saves. Refugees from Burma flee grinding poverty, hatred, murder, rape and torture only to meet the same fate by the hands of traffickers or new masters. It is an undeniable truth to us and an inescapable fate for them.
Thailand and Indonesia pleading poverty and inadequate resources have turned their backs to Rohingyas and so has Bangladesh. With nowhere to go, Rohingyas are perhaps now children of the sea.