By Juliana Iturralde
March 22, 2017
As Americans living within a Trump presidency, decreased tolerance towards foreigners could not be more clear. Hardening attitudes towards refugees in particular have become manifested into government policies, thus normalizing adverse attitudes of asylum seekers to the common American people. Globally, refugee camps are under-funded & crumbling. Like the United States, countries are losing sympathy for those that need it the most.
Currently, one of the most persecuted minorities in the world are the Rohingya— an ethnic Muslim group who are fleeing the violent military in their homeland, Myanmar(Burma). Between October 2016 and February 2017, more than 70,000 Rohingyas have relocated in the neighboring Bangladesh alone, according to the UNHCR. This is not a new phenomenon, there have been massive waves of Rohingya seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh’s two government run refugee camps for decades. Despite being familiar with the constant influx of refugees, Bangladesh is beginning to toughen its treatment of the Rohingya. Specifically, the Bangladeshi government has proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an isolated island that is currently uninhabitable. Human Rights Watch has flagged this plan, saying that it is a “human rights and humanitarian disaster in the making.”
Bangladeshi refugee camps are already scarce in food and water. The proposed relocation plan will only make these concerns worse. Thengar Char island, the proposed island of relocation, was only formed recently from years of silt that flowed from the Himalayas into the Bay of Bengal. Uninhabited to all but water buffalo, the island is a center for crime and danger. There are no roads, clean water, cell phone service, or methods to prevent the island from severe flooding. Despite escaping the violence and chaos within Myanmar, Rohingya refugees still face the threat of malnutrition and violence.
The burden and blame cannot be placed on the Bangladeshi government alone, however. At a time where the Rohingya are facing an extraordinary amount of hardship and persecution, it becomes the responsibility of those who have the power to help to act. In America, as well as in most developed countries, it becomes easy to view refugees as an unimportant nuisance to our daily lives. Aiding the Rohingya is a matter of life and death, however. It’s vital to the lives of thousands that support is given not just from Bangladesh and countries neighboring Myanmar, but from countries like the United States as well.
Juliana Iturralde, externed with Justice For All-Burma Task Force campaign.