May 08, 2018
It's easy for Americans to take our quality of life for granted. We go about our days in a relative ease -- living comfortably, while a half a world away, entire populations wonder if they'll live to see the sunrise. To them, a bad day isn't a long commute or limited Wi-Fi -- it's grabbing their children's hands and running from the soldiers who are burning their village to the ground. It's seeing young girls snatched up by traffickers and slaveholders while their parents scream. Or, like the near-million Rohingya packed into flimsy bamboo refugee huts, making it to safety -- only to watch mudslides carry their shelters, and more families, away.
In Myanmar (Burma), this is the real-life nightmare of the Rohingya, a population of non-violent Muslims who've been described as the "world's most persecuted minority." For the last two years, thousands of them have been slaughtered in one of the greatest humanitarian crises no one is talking about. To some of us, the idea of persecution and torture seems far-off and unreal. In a nation so fortunate -- and shielded almost to the point of complacency -- it's hard to wrap our minds around that kind of evil and suffering. But for the Rohingya, the West's ignorance is literally killing them.
The lucky ones have made it to refugee camps in Bangladesh, only to face the reality that monsoons could wipe out their water, food, and medical supplies. Relief agencies are desperately trying to access the camps, where makeshift bamboo huts can't possibly survive the deluge. More than 100,000 people are at risk of mudslides and flooding -- which is better than what they would face at home, where entire communities are set on fire and whole villages murdered in a vicious campaign of "ethnic cleansing."
Worse, tens of thousands of mothers are going into labor as the rains start -- the result of brutal rapes that took place during the Burmese crackdown. Ayesha Akhtar's story is like a lot of women's, even girls'. "Everyone knew the soldiers commit rape when they raid villages," she said. But nothing prepared her for the day when armed Burmese men burst into her home, threatened to kill her children, ripped her clothes off and assaulted her. She's never recovered.
"The UN's special envoy on sexual violence, Pramila Patten, has concluded the Myanmar army use rape as a weapon of genocide. '[It is] a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group," she says. Women of all ages were gang-raped, publicly raped, even taken away and brutalized for days at a time. Relief workers at the border were horrified by the stories. "In January, so many women were showing up at... hospitals, bleeding, that midwives speculated many were probably trying to abort their pregnancies at home."
Jo Stevens, writing about the area, says the situation of the million people along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border is desperate.
I have been to the refugee camps... I met refugees who have fled unspeakable levels of violence and systematic abuse... These people now face a second tragedy as the monsoon season hits and threatens to wipe out even more lives... Basic services are also in danger; 32 percent of health facilities could be lost, and a quarter of the nutrition centers are threatened, putting the lives of the 60,000 women reported to be pregnant -- many of them as a result of rape -- and their babies at risk of malnutrition...
The United States has been actively engaged in the region, including a trip to Bangladesh by Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. During his April visit to the camps, he was astounded, calling the brutality the worst he'd ever seen. "The intensity of the violence here, the thoroughness, is breathtaking," he said. "There's a high level of interest in the administration over this," he promised, explaining that the U.S. is putting tremendous pressure on Myanmar to stop targeting these civilians because of their faith.
In his new role, Ambassador Brownback surprised a lot of his critics (many who insisted he was anti-Muslim) by making the Rohingya one of his top priorities. Even Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who opposed his nomination, admitted that "[A]nything that can bring the plight of the Muslims in Burma to public attention is worthwhile." On that, we agree. Christians have always believed that every person should have the ability to choose their faith and live it out free from government discrimination.
If you're wondering what you can do to help, visit our friends at Open Doors USA for specific prayer points for the Rohingya. Or, contribute to the work of amazing organizations like Samaritan's Purse, who are on the ground right now serving them.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.