Two sets of high-definition images of Myanmar taken from the outer space: they are both shot in the morning, both show the same villages populated by Muslim Rohingya of Rakhine state. The first set, collected from 2014, shows a small collection of homes where virtually stateless minority has settled. The buildings, which stretches between the trees and away from the ways of earth, with a number of more than 100. In the second set of images, taken in the last two months, the houses have disappeared, and all that is left is the plaza of the patches of burnt earth.
Provided by Human Rights Watch, the images reveal 430 buildings that have been destroyed in three different villages, and support the claim of an official of the United Nations that Myanmar is the search for the “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya” of its territory.
After nine of the border officers were killed on the 9th of October, the region of the Muslim minority – already excluded, poor and persecuted – has once again been the victim of a sharp increase in violent attacks. In the past two months, around 10,000 Muslims Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh and, according to Amnesty International, testimony from refugees suggest that Myanmar security forces led by the military”, are “burning of hundreds of homes.”
The human rights group has also accused the Myanmar military of a “shoot to the inhabitants of combat helicopters,” carry out “arbitrary arrests” and “raping women and girls”. The UN has added the torture, summary executions and the destruction of mosques to this list.
In Rakhine state, the camps, where the Muslim Rohingya had been forced to live were horrible
There are an estimated 1 million Muslim Rohingya – just one of the many ethnic minorities, groups living in the Buddhist majority of Myanmar. Despite living in Rakhsne state for generations, the Muslim Rohingya are viewed by many in the country, not as fellow citizens but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A series of violent clashes in 2012, left 100,000 displaced. The next year I visited Myanmar with Refugees International and the Burma Campaign uk. During this trip we heard stories of how Rohingya communities fled the violent attacks in the remote areas of the countryside. In Rakhine state, the camps, where the Muslim Rohingya had been forced to live in were horrible, and in many cases the people were cut off from the life-saving humanitarian assistance and the access to health care.
I have traveled by boat to a UNHCR-supported camp in Pauktaw, and has vivid memories of the coast near the fields covered in faeces, with rats dead floating a few yards from where children were bathing to keep cool in the unbearable heat. I also remember the exhaustion, the trauma and the fear on the faces of many of those who had knowledge of the life of segregationand are the object of racial discrimination, every day. I also remember being told stories of loved ones killed, of the children who die for lack of access to health services, and of women dying in childbirth.
Rohingya children are attending school in the Dar Paing unregistered internal displacement camp in Sittwe, Myanmar. Photo: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images
Since Myanmar passed the citizenship act of 1982, the full citizenship in Myanmar is based, according to the Burma Campaign uk, on being a member of the “national races” – a category awarded only to those who are “considered to have settled in Myanmar before 1824, the date of the first occupation by the British.” In Myanmar nationwide census in 2014, the Muslim minority group was initially allowed to self-identify as “Rohingya”, but the government later revoked this freedom and believed that they could only be identified as “Bengali”.
This has left the Rohingya open to discrimination and abuse. Denied the right to education and to equality of employment, and limited access to health care, that have had to endure intolerable conditions. In Myanmar, in 2013, I walked around the hospital rooms that segregated the patients by their religion.
Many Muslim Rohingya flee Myanmar in boat by the Bay of Bengal in the hope of getting to Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. As her situation continued to deteriorate during the past year, thousands of people have tried to cross a stretch of water that is three times more lethal to the refugees across the Mediterranean. According to the UN, are often “stranded at sea in overcrowded boats, controlled by traffickers and smugglers of people”, with many “beaten and held hostage for ransom”.
Myanmar Rohingya campaign “may be a crime against humanity’
Despite the fact that last year’s historic election – which supposedly began at the end of the 50 years of military government, the rights and freedoms of the Muslim Rohingya have not improved. Eight months prior to the day of the vote, the president of Myanmar revoked all the registration cards, leaving many Muslim Rohingya without any type of identity document and, therefore, unable to cast their vote.
Despite his victory in the elections, and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi – who had been under house arrest for 15 years – was prevented from becoming president and instead took on the role of “counselor of state”. There was a great sense of hope that once in office, the Nobel peace prize, would stand up against any violation of their rights against the Rohingya and other minorities persecuted. However, with the control on the national security in the hands of the military, not much has changed – in fact, the treatment, the support and defence of the Muslim Rohingya has deteriorated. Journalists are not permitted to enter the region.
Two weeks ago, the 70 British parliamentarians wrote to the secretary of foreign relations of the united kingdom, Boris Johnson, urging the government to intensify its pressure on the government of Myanmar to allow all aid and humanitarian access to Rakhine state. We are still waiting for a response. Great britain, together with the international community urgently needs to listen to these voices and to redouble their efforts to ensure that alleged abuses are investigated, and that the violent campaign against the Muslim Rohingya has ended. Minorities in Myanmar deserve the opportunity to live in peace.