Syrian Refugees and Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims: Two tales of Human Apathy

You have to understand, no one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than land — Warsan Shire.

An image of Aylan Kurdi, 3 year old whose lifeless body in a red shirt and dark shorts face down on a Turkish beach which washed off to shore like debris has galvanized the public attention to a crisis that has been building for years. His round cheek pressed to sand as if he is sleeping is nothing short of apathy the humanity has turned into. The boy along with family like million others were on their unsuccessful journey to safe shores but no one except father survived.

What brought Syria a treasure house of archaeological marvels which sadly are looted and bulldozed now only to be sold in black markets to such a stage where people are risking their blood to flee their homeland? It is not simple to sum it all in definite terms but here is a short summary of what happened.

It all appears to have begun after the Arab Spring of 2011 where young Muslims across the Middle East looked to overthrow their leadership, a time when a bunch of Arab countries led revolts and protests regarding non-free governments, to realize their dream of what one might call ‘Islamic State’. The then president of Syria who promised democratic reforms when he took power failed miserably at his task; all he achieved was to imprison the democratic activists. The protest which took place around Arab Spring strengthened few democracies but failed at most of the places. These protests escalated after chemical weapons were used against the protesters who later formed the Free Syrian Army. It meant expanded military powers in Egypt and Turkey, while for Syria it meant persistent and bloody civil war. The factions inside the rebellion were joined by the worst of the world’s forces — Al’Qaeda calling themselves The Caliphate jumped into Iraq to take over Iraqi weapon catches in the northern regions. They have been at war with Iraq and Syria since it began. Meanwhile ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) took the chance to begin their regime takeover accumulating large amounts of land due to government overseeing. The Kurds, nomadic tribe joined the fight too. Right now, there are many splinter groups across Syria, all fighting for power. The government holds land in west Syria, the Kurds in the north, the rebels in North West, and ISIS in central and east Syria. It won’t baffle the reader to understand that all these groups are extremely violent, and hence the sorry state of Syrian people. The entry of foreign powers offering support and bombing power has only turned the matters worse. ISIS and Syrian president Assad are both barbarous in expending their powers to do evils on the people. The choice is hard. There is no good side to choose from and hence this mass exodus from the country to find a safer land to breath relief, a journey of fleeing one’s land to find safer place which hardly materializes like in the case of Aylan Kurdi.

Since the beginning of war Syria’s population has dropped almost 2,000,000 with an estimated 6,500,000 refugees. The numbers are huge, so huge for any country to agree to take them on. Most parts of Europe have shut their doors for help to such refugees. In their quest to find safe place to breath, people often take help from smugglers who promise them to ‘ship’ them to other lands but there is no guarantee if you will succeed to breathe at the end of the journey. Recently a truck with 50 smuggled migrants was found abandoned on the outskirts of Vienna. No one was alive inside, it was a truck with 50 dead bodies.

A white truck filled with the decomposing bodies of as many as 50 smuggled migrants was found abandoned on the outskirts of Vienna in the summer heat.

The Syrian story has more to it than just that but is it Syria alone who is fighting a lost battle with the cause of humanity? Certainly not. There is ‘Burma’ (Myanmar) in Asia where Rohingya Muslims are turning refugees in their own country.

The Rohingya are a stateless people numbering around 800,000, primarily in western Burma. Although many have lived inside the country for generations, they are not included on the list of 135 official ethnic groups as set out by xenophobic former dictator General Ne Win in the 1982 Citizenship Law. The government’s official position is that the Rohingya are illegal Bengali immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh who exploit the porous 300-km border to steal scarce land. They face severe restrictions on travel, marriage and reproduction, and Bangladesh similarly shuns them. A militant Buddhist organization known by the symbol 969 seems to be at the heart of this crisis with their outspoken monk Wirathu at the helm of the matters. Based in Mandalay’s Masoyein Monastery, his bizarre and baseless accusations that Muslims are “waging a jihad war on the Rakhine,” “doping young children with drugs to make them fight” and “disguising themselves as women to get involved in fights” have taken hold. Now 969 stickers are common to denote Buddhist businesses around the country. If in Syria, there are international organization helping the refugees with food and medical care, the plight here is worse. Humanitarian groups that help Rohingya are also under threat, their staffs detained. They are accused of having a pro-Rohingya bias.

More than 200 have been killed, 125,000 made homeless as mass arson, looting and cold blooded murder erupted between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims. U.N. estimates that 86,000 people, mainly Rohingya, have fled by boat in two years since clashes erupted. In the 1980s, the all Buddhist military junta stripped most Rohingya of their citizenship, claiming that they were recent immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. But the truth is, many Rohingyas have lived since generations in Burma. The country is now ruled by quasi-civilian government praised by the west for its reforms. Forget about any help from the domestic media but Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner has not even cared to condemn the appalling treatment of the Rohingyas instead she prefers to blame the “lack of law”.

People often embark on a journey to find new homes for their children to breathe free but are mostly rejected on shores by different lands, they die in the middle of the seas without food or due to disease; they die of human apathy. One must remember the wise words of Warsan Shire, “You have to understand, no one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than land”.

The two stories highlight the plight of people who have turned unwanted in the land which they once called their home, the land their fathers breathed and admired of. We are the humans who have reached moons and distant planets but the humanity in us has long died. The people who die there are our fellow humans, we need them as much as they need us today. Imagine yourself in their shoes, in a country where the basic needs of physical survival might be provided, but the rights of citizenship are forfeit, and human aspirations lose both their means and their direction.

This cartoon from Khalid Albaih speaks volumes about the state of Humanity

Image Courtesy: NYT

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