In late August, the world noted the one year anniversary of the beginning of Myanmar’s brutal expulsion of more than 700 thousand Rohingya residents from the western part of their country, until recently known as Burma. Those expelled now crowd into a flood-threatened temporary refugee camps at a site called Cox’s Bazar in neighboring Bangladesh.
The scale of the tragedy is huge. The total population of Rohingyas, who first settled in Myanmar in the 8th century A.D., had reached well more than a million before Myanmar greatly escalated expulsions a year ago after a few Rohingya militants attacked government guards in their packed, poverty-stricken camp. The Rohingya are an unrecognized minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
Burmese deportations or persecutions of the Rohingya have a long history, beginning in 1978, with follow up incidents in 1991-1992, 2012, 2015, and the past two years. And then, last week, the gravity of the scandal burst onto the world scene when:
—a United Nations fact-finding mission reported that Myanmar’s top military officials systematically murdered, tortured gang raped and enslaved civilians, while setting fire to entire communities in the country’s Rahkine province where the Rohingyas live. These acts, the report said, constituted a clear case of genocide.
—Facebook said it was removing accounts and pages linked to top Myanmar’s senior military officials, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. The general’s Facebook posts, according to the U.N., offered proof of pre-planned attacks.
The BBC World Service and VOA English, Burmese and Bangla services have supplied TV, radio and on-line reports over many months of the escalating Myanmar expulsions. VOA has broadcast and streamed on social media hundreds of accounts in many languages since the latest most extensive series of expulsions began. Among them: Burmese, Mandarin Chinese, English, Lao, Vietnamese, and a majority of VOA’s 15 language services to Africa. VOA reporters focusing on the crisis are Rikar Hussein and Muazzem Hossain Shakil, the latter recruited recently to offer on-the-scene accounts from within the overcrowded new Kutupalong refugee camp in eastern Bangladesh.
In July, VOA Director Amanda Bennett and its Bangla Service chief, Roquia Haider, paid a personal on-site visit to that overcrowded new camp in a narrow strip of land in eastern Bangladesh. “The thing that amazed me most,” the VOA director recalled, “was that the refugees were as starved for news as they were for food and water. They realize that knowing English is an essential skill if they ever are to leave the camps and travel abroad. So we’re introducing learning English programs to the refugees and other Rohingyas as a priority in the coming months”.
Western international broadcasts offer not only key information to nearly 80 million refugees and displaced people worldwide, but reach inside dispersed refugee encampments or settlements to reflect their own appeals for help, as well as Rohingyas fortunate enough to have escaped and move abroad.
A SAMPLING OF THESE ‘VOICES OF THE VOICELESS’ BEAMED GLOBALLY
“The world community has to step forward to find a solution for the Rohingya people so that they can go back home safely. Of course, the Rohingya people need international protection.” — Karim, a Rohingya refugee who recently arrived in the United States and appeared on the VOA weekly program, Plugged In, anchored by Greta Van Susteren
“We get rice here, but no utensils or means of cooking it. I feel like I’m in a kind of prison where life is very uncertain and does not point to any kind of light or hope.” — Shamsul, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar re-settlement camp, quoted by the VOA Hussein-Shakil reporting team
“We are here because the Rohingya people are facing genocide, and we want Congress to know what is happening right now . The Burmese forces are murdering our kinfolk, Rohingya homes are burned. So we are here today to stop the genocide, and appeal to the United States of America to take stronger action.” — Yakub, who arrived in the U.S, three years ago, and testified before Congress as quoted by VOA Senate correspondent Michael Bowman
The tragedy befalling the Rohingyas, in their own words. Where might they seek relief?
Bangladesh, increasingly concerned about the displaced hundreds of thousands Rohingya, is among the poorest nations on earth. Yet it has cleared an area of eight square miles to accommodate the deluge of humanity fleeing Myanmar. VOA Bangla Service Chief Roquia Haider quoted a U.N. observer on the scene: “Just imagine supplying one meal daily to 700,000 men, women and children… giving them some kind of shelter. What a huge task!”
And now, the seasonal monsoon has struck Bangladesh and the hastily-constructed refugee camp. The Dacca government, undaunted, moved thousands of Rohingya refugees from floodplains in the camp to nearby newly cleared areas on higher ground. Ms. Haider has traveled twice this past year to witness the daily reporting of her service to the impoverished refugees and their host country. She says : “VOA is preparing to launch a 30-minute daily Rohingya language broadcast from Washington” to respond to the desperate cries for help voiced by those lost souls she and other journalists have met this year and last.
In the words of The Economist: “There is plenty that foreign governments can do. A good first step would be for the Security Council to do as the U.N. report suggests and refer Myanmar’s generals to either the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal. If China vetoes that, so be it. At least it would be clear where everyone stands.” The influential British publication concludes: “There are plenty of other ways to apply pressure, most obviously by squeezing the extensive business empire on which the generals rely. The alternative is to encourage jackbooted butchers everywhere.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More