Incoming government told to lift restrictions on the Rohingyas
February 28, 2016
A Myanmar law enacted in 1982 denied the Rohingya people citizenship, thus rendering them stateless and vulnerable to discrimination.
In a country of 20 million people, most of whom are Buddhist, the Rohingyas are the largest Muslim minority with 1.5 million people living in the Rakhine state located west of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
They came into the media spotlight during a refugee crisis in 2015, during which thousands fled the country by rickety boats via the waters of the Malacca Strait and Andaman Sea to escape to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Thejakartapost.com recently spoke to Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK), which has long been advocating for the restoration of the rights of the people whose situation he said was only growing worse each day.
Tun Khin called for the international community, in particular member countries of ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member, as well as the UN to come with stronger action to pressure the Myanmarese government, particularly when the National League for Democracy (NLD) government comes in April.
Although he now resides in London, Tun Khin is highly anticipating the transformations expected to be forged by the new government led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, adding that the people of Myanmar have voted for hope, not hate.
However, he voiced disappointment at Suu Kyi, who has so far not provided any evidence in taking action toward addressing the issue of the Rohingya people.
"Actually, it is a very tragic moment for the Rohingya because she is not speaking up. Rohingya people strongly supported her as she is trying to build human rights and democracy. But we have to wait and see, but we are cautiously optimistic," Tun Khin said.
Suu Kyi standing up for the rights of the Rohingya will instill more confidence in democracy and human rights activists to add their voice and push for change in the country, said Tun Khin.
Tun Khin said the NLD should immediately address the issue and lift the restrictions imposed on the Rohingya people. He also urged neighboring countries to be more proactive in restoring the rights of the oppressed population.
Meanwhile, Lilianne Fan, international director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, which provided humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh, said that awareness of the Rohingya issue should be heightened in the region.
She expressed concern that people were more informed about issues of further regions, such as in the Middle East where the Palestinians were stateless, in comparison to the problems that are right at their doorstep.
"For the Rohingyas, this is our Palestine," Lilianne said.
She viewed Indonesia as having shown exemplary leadership in terms of conducting a humanitarian response for the refugee crisis last year where Acehnese fishermen were involved in rescuing 1,807 people from stranded boats.
Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi nationals stranded in the Andaman Sea were rescued on three occasions between May 10 and May 20, last year, in rescues off North Aceh, Langsa and East Aceh.
In recognition for their actions, the foundation has nominated the Acehnese fishermen for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) 2016 Nansen Refugee Award.
Since the rescue,, foundation have been working in providing psycho-social support for the survivors who she said have faced severe conditions throughout their journeys on the boats including starvation, exploitation and violence.
"They have been through such severe trauma," Lilianne added.
The Rohingya people flee from their land because they can't survive there, she said, but oftentimes they encounter human traffickers at sea who hold them on what is dubbed as "floating camps", in which they are held.
According to Lilianne, the migrants suffer appalling conditions for extended periods of time. Lack of food lead to fights over what little morsels are available, some women have also confessed to being sexually abused, while the children often witness the violence that unravel on the boats.
Once they arrive onshore, the journeys have evidently had serious psychological impact on the people, she said.
On her visit to the camps, Lilianne saw that during the time children were given the chance to draw, the images they illustrate would reflect their traumatized state of mind, including drawing depictions of death and violence.