A common word used to describe the Rohingya- a population of Muslims residing in the Buddhist-majority Rakhine State in southwestern Burma- is “forgotten.” They are a people without a country, unacknowledged by the government of Burma. After fleeing from their homes amid violence and terror, they are seen as a nuisance to surrounding countries.
I only heard of the Rohingya six months ago, thanks to an al-Jazeera English feature on their terrible plight as refugees in Bangladesh. The media focus on the people, 800,000 strong, is practically nonexistent. Political reform in Burma has often overshadowed the chaos in Rakhine. In a society where people have vowed to prevent another Rwanda, another Cambodia, it seems strange to see a lack of concentrated action against Burma and the surrounding countries to give the Rohingya some kind of political status.
A few weeks ago, I logged onto Twitter and saw that my feed was full of messages marked with the hashtag #RohingyaNOW. Organized by Anonymous, this Twitter offensive was successful in getting the Rohingya onto the global trending topics, peaking at 24,000 messages an hour. At the end of the day, a lot more people knew something about who these people were and what was happening to them.
Now in the aftermath of the Kony 2012 abomination, social media-based campaigns to highlight atrocities should be met with healthy skepticism. But Twitter is good at getting people to at least learn the basics, maybe do a bit of Googling to figure out what the fuss is about. Because one of the first steps to helping a forgotten people is to make them no longer forgotten.