Rohingya fleeing Myanmar
Bangladesh has been inundated with Rohingya Muslims fleeing political persecution and violence in the country of Myanmar.
“There’s been a bit of momentum that’s been building. It’s not unique. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened. It’s been an issue in Myanmar,” said Lori Williams, political scientist at Mount Royal University.
Williams said that Myanmar has a long history of ethnic conflict and rivalry dating back to when the country was under colonial rule and known as Burma. The lingering effects of British colonialism have resulted in political persecution and deep conflicts between different groups.
The conflict has driven the Rohingya minority in Myanmar to flee to Bangladesh for safety. The country has welcomed them, but the result has seen hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in over-crowded refugee camps.
The majority of the current violence and persecution taking place against the Rohingya is in the state of Rakhine.
“There is a long history of ethnic conflicts and rivalries throughout Myanmar. There’s a lot of deeply seeded conflicts between a number of different groups.
“The current crisis is happening in a region [Rakhine] that is just the focus right now. But, it’s certainly not the first storm and likely won’t be the last,” said Williams.
Williams said that it’s difficult to clearly define what is going on in Myanmar as an ethnic cleansing, even though the Rohingya are being targeted as a minority.
“It’s not clear to me that it’s a government, or those in power, having a clear campaign against a particular group. Basically, it looks like the military taking advantage of long standing ethnic divisions and conflicts,” said Williams.
The situation is further muddled, said Williams, because the violence is not as one sided as a typical ethnic cleansing. The current violence largely comes down to the military and a series of events that have led to a imbalance of power.
“The difference is the military represents a large Buddhist majority and their moving against those who are not Buddhist to try and get them out,” said Williams
The political scientist said that this type of political violence is not unique to Muslims and that the Buddhist majority has taken this type of action against Hindus in the past.
“It’s the Buddhist majority, helped by the military, because the military are effectively in power,” said Williams.
International powers, including Canada and the United Nations (UN), have been putting pressure on First State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi to put an end to the violent persecution of the Rohingya.
Suu Kyi has received a honourary Canadian citizenship and there have been calls for the country to strip her of this status due to the current crisis.
“What’s happening is a little more complex then her [Suu Kyi] just being callous or unconcerned. It’s not as simple as that,” said Williams.
Regardless, Williams said that Suu Kyi has served as a long-standing image of strength in Myanmar and she will need to take a stand against the Rohingya persecution, even if it is largely symbolic.
Canada has pledged $2.55 million to the UN in effort to help alleviate the pressures put on the Rohingya and Bangladesh due to the refugee influx.
Williams said that more money is going to provide some help on the ground in Bangladesh refugee camps, but that it won’t necessarily impact people still in Myanmar.
“I don’t know what will have an impact on what’s happening in the country [Myanmar]. The UN and Canada can always urge those who have influence, like Suu Kyi, but against the extremists, I don’t think she’s going to have that much influence,” said Williams.
The best option for Calgarians looking to provide aid to those forced to flee from Myanmar is to investigate charities, organizations and non-profits that are providing help to refugee camps.
“The best bet at this stage is international pressure and the UN,” said Williams.
Protests have been held at Calgary City Hall to draw attention to the crisis in Myanmar, with regular Calgarians rallying together to bring attention to locals.
A rally held in September was used to raise money for Calgarian, Saima Jamal, to travel to Bangladesh and access the current refugee camps.
“Money is the big need. She’s [Jamal] there, she’s raising money, she speaks the language and she works directly with people to ensure they’re getting it directly in their hands,” said Linda Sutton, a member of the Calgary protest group the Raging Grannies.
Sutton said she felt compelled to bring attention to the crisis in Myanmar because it is a, “horrible genocide,” that has displaced thousands of people on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“The situation is so incredibly horrendous, there are thousands and thousands of people. There needs to be pressure put on that [Myanmar] government so they [Rohingya] can actually go back home,” said Sutton.
“The answer long-term is not for them to stay in camps in Bangladesh.”