“The Rohingya are facing crisis in a historic proportion... in the killing field, crimes against humanity are being committed by Myanmar,” Dr. Wakar Uddin said at Bangladeshi Student Association (BSA)’s awareness dinner last night.
Uddin, a professor at Penn State University, Director General of Arakan Rohingya Union and a Rohingya himself, was the keynote speaker at this event, which was held with the Pakistani Community at the University of Connecticut and Muslim Students Association, to educate the UConn community about the Rohingya crisis.
The Rohingya are refugees from Myanmar, previously known as Burma, in a place called Arakan. These Muslims in Myanmar made up the minority in the country, but despite this setback, made Arakan one of the most developed and progressive places in Myanmar. The Rohingya prospered underneath British rule, but began migrating north in 1942, when the massacres began. Since they were the Muslim minority in a Buddhist majority country, they were severely mistreated. As the massacres continued, the people pushed up, until they reached the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Now, there are about 1.1 million refugees in Bangladesh, which is a lot for the country to hold. Bangladesh is about 66 times smaller than the United States, with a very high population density. What makes this crisis a political issue, however, is not the involvement of Bangladesh, but the lack of involvement from other countries.
It is difficult to save and care for the Rohingya without support and supplies from surrounding countries. UNHCR and international agencies are barred. There is no verification of the crisis, and the people of Myanmar are blinded by their transition into democracy. Uddin called the issue a “hidden genocide.” Luckily, United Nations and the U.S. have signed sanctions against Myanmar recently. With the power of the people and constant persistence from first world countries, there are many ways to start a movement and help these people recover.
Until then, it is important to understand the terrors that the Rohingya have endured. Over time, the rights of the Rohingya have been violated, revoked and destroyed. In the time of violation, their movement, worship, education, marriage and reproduction were intruded. All houses of worship were shut down. They could not bear more than two children. It continued to get worse from there. In the time of revocation, they were stripped of their citizenship. Their Nation Registration Certificates, or citizen cards, were confiscated. Myanmar asked the U.N. to end their recognition of the Rohingya, a request that was completely disregarded by the U.N. Myanmar had all Rohingya institutions destroyed; mosques and schools were burned, cultural activities, games and shows were banned. The period of destruction began when the Rohingya began to leave for Bangladesh. They crossed the Bangladeshi border into safety, and with time, an agreement was signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh stating they would be able to return to their homes. Meanwhile, Myanmar obliterated all remaining traces of the Rohingya, giving them no homes to return to.
Between all of these struggles, the torture the Rohingya had to deal with was unbelievable.
“You haven’t seen the other side of the border, what they escaped,” Uddin explained. “They grabbed children from the laps of their mothers and threw them in the fire. They are not human... How can one human being, regardless of their race, their religion, do this to another human being? They are animals.”
Currently, Rohingya refugees are in camps, camps that the New York Times dubbed as the 20th century concentration camps. The camps in Bangladesh provide security, something the camps in Myanmar cannot offer.
The event’s first speaker, Khairul Alam, a UConn alumnus and senior associate of Always Wanting and Receiving Education (AWARE), spent a week in the camps, distributing food, sweaters and blankets and built bathrooms and showers for women. He said that it would be an understatement to say that it opened his eyes. Alam’s trip opened his heart. However, Alam said that his biggest regret was not spending quality time with the children there.
“40,000 of the 300,000 children are orphans, they run around and pick the camps they want to stay at... These kids go from camp to camp, from tent to tent; this is how they survive,” Alam said. Using his strong background in Islam, he connected fundamental concepts of Prophet Mohammed and his connections with people.
Alam then stressed the importance of making a connection with those in need of help, so once they have received help in whatever period of time, they are not forgotten. He encouraged the audience to write to elected officials after being educated on the crisis and understanding its complexities.
“It is not who’s around you, it is not who is near it. What matters most is what is within you... If you have that flame ignited within you, then you have to take that action... Whether you believe in a god or don’t believe in a god,” Alam said as he explained stories of the Prophet. “This is an issue of humanity.”
Armana Islam is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.