Despite unprecedented international and media attention to the most persecuted minority in the world in the wake of U.S. President Obama’s likewise unprecedented state visit to the country of Burma, the situation has not even changed one bit for the Rohingya Muslims in the southwestern state of Rakhine. Although estimates of deaths are put at a few hundred or even a thousand by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, it is likely that the death toll reaches well over those estimates as violence and persecution continue with the Burmese government essentially sanctioning and even participating in the ethnic cleansing.
For decades the Rohingya Muslims were persecuted by the Buddhist-majority country. The Burmese government in the 1980’s stripped all Rohingya Muslims of their citizenship claiming that they were Bangladeshi even though all of them had centuries-old roots in Rakhine.
Then, in the midst of brutal crackdowns on dissents and other ethnic groups continuing well into the 21st century, the Burmese junta also targeted the Rohingya Muslims with the usual tactics: rape, arson, shootings, bombings, airstrikes, artillery bombardments and so on.
But earlier this year in June, the violence soon started again and rapidly escalated after Rakhine Buddhist men started attacking Rohingya villages in retaliation for the alleged rape of a Rakhine Buddhist woman at the hands of several Rohingya Muslim men. The government and even the outspoken Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who hesitated, sat by and called for calm and peace among the general populace of the Rakhine state.
But it was not to be.
Hundreds of villages have been burned down often with people still inside their dwellings, children have been mercilessly cut down or impaled and countless women have been raped.
The most chilling part of this bloody mosaic is that the men who are burning, looting, raping, murdering and driving away tens of thousands of people from their ancestral homes are not the usual military soldiers or bandits seen in films such as Rambo or the footage recorded by reporters in the past but are ordinary local men drunk on “vengeance” and violence.
Not even isolated villages are safe. Plumes of black smoke can still be seen from hilly areas where no one would normally venture into and many are being hounded by intercepting mobs on the roads or paths towards the sea where many try to find a way to flee the country.
This is the Rohingya diaspora:
Families have been torn apart or annihilated easily as the only obvious destinations for displaced civilians are the refugee camps near the Rakhine capital city of Sittwe or the marinas sitting on the Bay of Bengal.
Refugee camps are shockingly crowded with very little food or medicine going around. Waste such as trash and human feces are improperly placed in the vicinity of shabby living quarters that make South African shantytowns look like five star hotels. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas are still scattered across these camps with little to eat and much to pray for.
Meanwhile, the Rakhine Buddhists who were displaced during the “riots” are given considerably more luxurious camps than their Rohingya counterparts. These Rakhine camps have access to clean water, living facilities and medical aid. The two sides generally stay away from each other in these designated camp areas, each fearing retaliation and resumption of violence.
More worrisome is that the Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian groups are being constantly threatened and harassed by “anonymous sources” to stop treating Rohingya Muslims which have made local volunteers hesitate in coming to work.
Meanwhile, the Rohingya Muslims who managed to make it to the sea hope to miserably paddle their barely floating and even leaking, overcrowded boats toward Bangladesh to seek asylum.
Reports of Burmese military helicopters mowing down people on these boats with gunfire have been confirmed by survivors who managed to make it into Bangladesh.
Provided that these poor people make it to Bangladesh after several days of languishing under the hot sun on waters that threaten to topple them, Bangladeshi patrols push these people back out to sea on their boats after giving just a small square of dried rice and a bottle of water to each individual.
The Rohingya pray to Allah, beg, cry and moan. It is clear that many of the Bangladeshi soldiers are disturbed by the sight of these half-starved brother Muslims but they were ordered by their government to turn away all Rohingya refugees.
The number of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh currently number somewhere around 250,000 and the Bangladeshi government has declared that it cannot take in anymore refugees.
The question of what happens to these refugees pushed back out on the sea can be answered by the dozens of bloated and bullet-ridden corpses that have been pulled up and found by fishermen in the surrounding waters.
Currently, many groups are trying to push the Burmese government into action while groups like Doctors Without Borders are struggling to give medical care to tho desperate Rohingya Muslims in the refugee camps while at the same time maintaining access to supplies and other parts of the Rakhine state.
In the meantime, this horrid diaspora, this ethnic cleansing will continue despite the Burmese government’s reports of “peace” that pin any outbreaks of violence on the Rohingya Muslims.