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Things are only getting worse for Burmas

Rohingya Muslims

Newly arrived migrants gather at Kuala Langsa Port in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia earlier this
year. Pic: AP.

By Asian Correspondent Staff Sep 11, 2015


BURMAS Muslim minority, the Rohingya, have long been victims of systematic
persecution by the military government. Their plight has become increasingly
desperate over the past year as government policies, human traffickers and natural
disasters have exacerbated their vulnerability. National elections are scheduled for
early November, but without a voice at this important juncture, there are fears that
conditions for the most persecuted refugees on Earthwill begin rapidly deteriorating.
A 2014 report by Fortify Rights, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State
Policies Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, details the systematic oppression
under which the Rohingya persevere. They suffer from restricted access to basic public
services such as education and health care and, in the absence of basic freedoms, their

movements, marriage rights and childbearing rights are all suppressed. Recently
their plight has been raised by Pope Francis who stated the continued persecution of
the Rohingya constituted war against these people.
SEE ALSO: Why we need to worry about Burmas extremist Ma Ba Tha
monks
In Burma, also known as Myanmar, its not only government policies that have
targeted the Rohingya, rising nationalist sentiment continues to play a significant role
in their persecution. Among those encouraging hatred towards the Muslim community
are ultra-nationalist groups. Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk and prominent member
of nationalist groups the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba
Tha) and Movement 969, has become infamous for his outspoken anti-Muslim
rhetoric in which he refers to Muslims as the enemy. He recently lashed out at the UN
Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Yanghee Lee, calling her a whore for
highlighting the unjust treatment of the Rohingya. In the run up to the national
elections the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion has become an
increasingly powerful organization influencing the policies of both the ruling party and
the opposition party.
It is against this backdrop that tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma, only to
fall prey to human traffickers in many cases. The situation reached crisis point in May
this year after authorities in Thailand began cracking down on human trafficking and
slavery. A new report from UNHCR has collated the experiences of refugees who were
abandoned at sea in May. Their stories tell of terrifying ordeals violence, drownings,
starvation and attempts by Southeast Asian nations to redirect the destitute refugee
towards neighboring territories.
Posted by Thavam

Thousands or Rohingya migrants were abandoned at sea earlier this year. Pic: AP.
At the end of July natural disaster struck communities in Rakhine State as Cyclone
Komen sent Burma into a state of emergency. Cyclone Komen, the worst natural
disaster to hit Burma since 2008, caused over 100 deaths, destroyed homes,
submerged villages, damaged essential infrastructure and displaced more than a
million people. The townships of Maungdaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw,
Buthidaung, Ann and the Rohingya IDP camps where among the worst affected areas.
Muslim communities living a borderline existence in Rakhine were particularly
vulnerable and unprepared to cope with the floods. According to UNICEF over
140,000 Rohingya children were affected by the heavy rains and flooding. The work of
charities and NGOs trying to assist the flood victims was hindered by government
policies. As Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, explained:
This crisis has been made worse by existing restrictions on aid to Rohingya IDPs.
Even in the face of this natural disaster the Rohyinga continued to experience
persecution with government officials accused of abandoning them, as state aid was
only made available at Buddhist shelter areas. The Burma Times reported
that Rohingya children, had been refused treatment by local hospitals and there were
further reports that Rohingya families were turned out of emergency shelters in
Kyauktaw.

The worst of the flooding has passed but Muslims in Rakhine are still living in dire
conditions. Jason Bray, a documentary filmmaker who joined the relief effort in
Rakhine explained the desperation in the region. Rakhine State was without doubt
one of the poorest places Ive ever been too. In other countries like Philippines,
Ethiopia, India there are slum dwellings, red light districts and poor villages scattered
amongst middle class and even richer areas. But here it was just impoverished
everywhere! The floods just made things worse, he said.

Motorcyclists make their way through a flooded road in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state
in western Burma in June. Pic: AP.
The legal status of the Rohingya has been gradually eroded away and these
communities have now lost their right to vote. The Rohingya and other Muslims
previously had temporary identification papers known as white cards which had
enabled them to vote in earlier elections. These white cards have now been
discontinued, denying the Rohingya citizenship and the right to vote. It is estimated
that 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have been removed from voter registration
lists prepared for the national elections this November.
But even with right to vote, ethnic Rohingya communities would be unlikely to find
any candidate to champion their cause. Few Muslims trust the quasi-civilian
leadership of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the main
opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has failed to field any

Muslim candidates. The lack of Muslim representatives is believed to be a result


of pressure from Buddhist nationalist organisation Ma Ba Tha and fears that ultranationalists could attack political parties for being unpatriotic if they were to field
Muslim candidates.
Shwe Maung, a former lawmaker and member of the USDP, had intended to run as an
independent in the upcoming election. But he has since been struck off the candidacy
listafter the Union Election Commission determined his father had not been a citizen
at the time of his birth. His attempts to appeal the decision at a court in Rakhine state
have been rejected.
In response, Charles Santiago from the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
accused the government of blocking Muslim candidates to appease nationalist groups
such as Ma Ba Tha.
No one was expecting Burma to leap from military dictatorship to fully fledged
democracy overnight, but any hopes of making genuine progress towards democracy
require national elections open to all ethnic and religious groups. The growing
influence of ultra-nationalists who claim to have been instrumental in excluding
Muslims from the upcoming elections is a serious cause for concern. If local political
parties who share the ultra-nationalists ideologies gain power in Rakhine state, there
is genuine reason to fear that a mass atrocity will soon take place in Burma.
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About the author:
Daniel Maxwell is a writer and educator who has been living and working in Southeast
Asia since the late 1990s. An English literature graduate from the University of
London, Daniel previously worked with the publishing company EMAP before
relocating to Asia. Found elsewhere: Maxwells Notes