In many places in the world, little understanding, cooperation or compassion exists between faith groups. This month’s essay describes one of these places. Here in Centre County, Interfaith Initiative works “to foster compassion, charity and goodwill, and build a healthy interfaith community by promoting respect, understanding, cooperation and friendship among Centre County’s faith communities and their individual members.”
Sarah Malone, IICC convener
There are as many as 135 ethnic groups in Burma — the Kachin and Karen in the east and the Rohingya in the western state of Arakan, for example.
Some of these groups face ethnic cleansing and persecution. The Rohingya, who compose only 4 percent of Burma’s population, are an ethnic Muslim minority from the state of Arakan in Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation. The Rohingya are regarded by the United Nations as the most persecuted people in the world.
Social exclusion is arguably the most outrageous form of human rights denial based on a people’s race, religion or ethnicity. But in addition to denial of citizenship, torture, burning down of houses, looting, rape and human trafficking are an everyday reality for the Rohingya.
Such well-planned and executed persecution by one group of people toward another is hard for civilized persons to comprehend.
The Burmese junta and the Rakhine Buddhist population are increasingly daring in inappropriate use of power. Absolute denial of human rights and powerlessness over their own lives have led to mass Rohingyan exodus to neighboring Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia and even Australia.
Helpless desperation has forced Rohingya Muslims to brave the high seas on rickety boats; such efforts often end in drowning.
It will never be easy to get exact numbers of people fleeing Burma, but thousands have fled government-sponsored discrimination and ethnic cleansing. Deplorable living conditions in refugee camps lead to disease, malnourishment and high infant mortality.
It is recognized that refugees or displaced persons and undocumented groups, especially coming from such transient situations, require a fully committed and specialized program to ensure their safety and protection.
In such situations, women and children are the most vulnerable and constitute a large number in the camps. Vulnerable Rohingya are an easy target for human trafficking in neighboring Thailand.
Global Alliance for Protection of Rohingya Women and Children is a nonprofit organization working to improve the lives of women and children in these camps. Two of its projects, Project Arakan and Project Maya, specifically focus on women and children.
Emphasis is placed on basic medical care, empowerment of women through self-help groups, capacity building for understanding the needs of their families and identifying and relocating women and children from forced confinement and sex slavery.
Recent attacks on the offices of the United Nations, Medecins Sans Frontiere and international NGOs by Arakan Buddhists have worsened the situation. All aid groups have been banned, cutting off life-saving medicines and food to the stateless, impoverished Rohingya community.
International intervention and pressure from the U.S., Europe and the United Nations could lead to a solution for a nation that discriminates and persecutes its people in the name of religion, race, ethnicity and culture.
Sarah Naeem Uddin is founder and director of Global Alliance for Protection of Rohingya Women and Children. She works at the business office of Young Scholars of Central PA charter school.