By Abdul Malik Mujahid
Largely driven by the current Syrian refugee crisis, this humanitarian challenge is a main theme of the 2016 World Humanitarian Day observed each year by the United Nations. As dire as it is, unfortunately the focus on the Syrian crisis has diverted attention from other larger and equally horrific refugee situations. No population suffers from this attention deficit more than the Rohingya, a Muslim minority community of Burma.
Today more than 1 million indigenous Rohingya live a life of largely unknown horror in their ancestral lands on the Western borders of Myanmar/Burma. International humanitarian leaders call the Rohingya, “the most persecuted people on earth.“ Eight Nobel Prize winners describe their plight as nothing less than “genocide.” Today, an estimated 125,000 Rohingyas are starving to death in detention camps that the New York Times calls the Concentration Camps of the 21st Century. Countless others have disappeared into the slavery of organized trafficking or into an unknown number of mass graves throughout the region.
Citizenship has been cancelled; their rights systematically removed. Rohingya lost their right to work, travel, get an education, marry and bear children freely and finally. In 2014 they were excluded from the National Census and denied the right to vote. Faced with state sponsored xenophobia and increasing episodes of deadly violence, the Rohingya desperately need the world’s attention.
Myanmar government, now led by a Nobel Peace Laureate, must allow the world’s humanitarian organizations full access to provide the Rohingya basic necessities such as shelter, food, healthcare and education.
Yet the world has turned a blind eye. Scant mention of this ongoing tragedy finds its way into the public discourse.
As a friend to the Rohingya People, the Burma Task Force is promoting “World Rohingya Day” as a part of World Humanitarian Day. The goal is to raise awareness of the shameful lack of political will inside and outside Burma to restore basic human rights. Demonstrations are planned in This Humanitarian Day, let the voice of humanity be heard in all its diversity. Let nations commit to better and more inclusive political and social policies. Most critically, let the needs of the Rohingya be recognized, along with the beauty of their human potential. We look forward to a day of homecoming and of acceptance.
Abdul Malik Mujahid is an Imam, award winning author, chair emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and chairs the Burma Task Force USA, a coalition of 19 major American organizations to stop the genocide in Burma. As the national coordinator of the Bosnia Task Force, USA, he successfully led efforts to declare rape as a war crime.