No end in sight - The Rohingya Crisis
The images on TV a few years ago of Rohingya refugees on overcrowded boats fleeing persecution in Myanmar was a powerful one. Hundreds of thousands of the Muslim minority poured into camps in Bangladesh, where they are still, despite a lack of news regarding their plight or the Myanmar military's actions in the area. Stories of villages being burnt, and of rape, torture, even murder abound.
Attempts to repatriate the Rohingya have failed because they are frightened; no wonder when a recent report with aerial footage of the area from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said "we’ve found ongoing destruction of additional settlements and the construction of highly securitised camps and military bases that have been built, fortified or expanded on the sites of razed Rohingya settlements.” They are not safe in the camps either, with human trafficking a constant threat, particularly to young girls.
Travelling in Burma, which I have done as a tourist, you get a very different story. That icon of the struggle for democracy and human rights, Aung San Suu Kyi, is running the country now and has huge support from the majority of Burmese, particularly in cities like Yangon. "She is our mother", one taxi driver there said to me as we passed yet another poster of her beautiful smiling face with flowers in her hair. A popular view among many of those I spoke to was that the Rohingya burnt their own villages and are lying about the abuse.
I have been an activist with Amnesty International for many years, and remember Suu Kyi saying "Please use your liberty to promote ours", so we did, for decades, until to our delight, she became the de-facto Prime Minister of her country.
Unfortunately, the delight turned to dismay and I for one would like to know more: what is the latest news from this region, why has this happened and is still happening, and importantly, what we in the West can do to help the Rohingya people?
To help answer these questions, Amnesty International have organised a round-table discussion at the Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh , 6:30pm-8:30pm on 20th September with some excellent speakers.
Here are some details about the event in case you would be interested in coming along:
Aklima Bibi is a lawyer and journalist from London who has been to the camps in Bangladesh many times. She will be speaking about what the refugees have told her and will be talking live on video with women in one of the camps at the talk. There will also be recorded footage with testimonies from the camps.
Senior lecturers Youngmi Kim from Edinburgh University and Matteo Fumagalli from St Andrews University, specialists in South Asian studies and International Relations, will also speak about the crisis: the history, the politics, and ways forward, including some projects they are involved in personally in Myanmar.
There will also be footage from Simon Reeve's fascinating BBC documentary "Burma" where he visits the camps at the border and interviews Buddhist monks with extremist anti-muslim views.
There will be time for Q and A. Tickets are free but limited due to the capacity of the venue, so book now if you would like to attend the event.