Rohingya now face a different, but familiar hell

The big news in Southeast Asia has been the ejecting of Doctors Without Borders from western Burma. This comes due to a dispute with the government regarding their treatment of the stateless Rohingya people- which the Burmese government views as squatters and parasitic. From the linked story:

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Yangon, also known as Rangoon, says MSF is one of the few agencies providing treatment for Rohingya who would otherwise be turned away from clinics and hospitals.

The government says that MSF has prioritised the treatment of the Rohingya community over local Buddhists.

The final straw may well have been MSF’s statement a month ago that they had treated people after an alleged massacre of Muslims by Buddhists near the border with Bangladesh, our correspondent says.

Displaced Rohingya have serious food security issues.
Credit: Andrew Stanbridge/Al Jazeera

The conflict between the Muslim Rohingya and mostly Buddhist surrounding people has gone on for decades, but the humanitarian situation has been especially dire recently.  I wrote a brief piece last year that is still as relevant today. These people also live in Bangladesh but face similar issues- at best, they are ignored. Two weeks ago a huge number of Rohingya fleeing by boat were intercepted by Thai authorities and sent back into the country they were fleeing from.

The stateless

The stateless

One of my favorite moments of the 2012 Olympics was when in the middle of the parade, an unusual nation was represented- the Independent Olympics Athletes.

In three Olympics people have, by choice or by necessity, not competed under the flag of a specific nation. The games has a way to deal with the war, politics, and division that the real world faces- if they qualify for an event they can petition to march under the flag of the International Olympic Committee.

In 1992 Yugoslavia was collapsing, and the Olympic flag was a way to get around sanctions against the Federal Republic. In 2000 the end of the struggle to free East Timor was approaching, and athletes from there did not want to play for Indonesia.

2012 had three people who were stateless due to administration- when the Netherlands Antilles was absorbed by the mother country, they lost their Olympic committee. Since they didn’t view themselves as Dutch, they qualified as independents.

The link is about Guor Marial, who was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, left homeless during the decades-long civil war. He fled servitude and literally ran himself out of the conflict. He considers himself South Sudanese, but the new country didn’t form a committee in time.

These athletes remind us on a large stage how people can be more than just homeless- they can be without a nation. It’s not just Yugoslavia, East Timor, and the Sudan, it’s also about groups such as the Rohyingya people who are forced out of their homes in Burma. The Olympic flag reminds us all of an obligation we have.

During the Arab Spring I was moved by the words of a female Syrian blogger, Razan Ghazzawi. Shortly before her arrest by the Syrian government, she told friends that “If anything happens to me, know that the regime does not fear the prisoners but rather those who do not forget them.”

When we see the stateless, that is our role. We are here to remember, we are here to make sure people are not forgotten.


The whole world is watching.