A Holistic Look at the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

By ICC’s Myanmar Correspondent

05/23/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In recent months, news outlets around the world have extensively covered the Rohingya crisis in Western Myanmar. The issue has been coined as either ethnic cleansing or a religious persecution issue, but most of them failed to take a holistic look at the country’s problems.

In Rakhine state, where the majority of the Muslim ethnic minority group Rohingya live, most of the conflicts used to be handled by the police. However, after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya rebel group, attacked police posts on August 25, 2017, the military forces came in.

The military crackdown led to the brutal murders of 10 villagers. The massacre at Inn Din village and similar incidents have resulted in nearly 700,000 Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh.

Little is known about the intentions of ARSA. However, a spokesperson for ARSA said in an interview that the attacks were aimed to invoke a response. Bertil Lintner, a journalist and Myanmar expert, said that ARSA received international attention, large donations from the Arab world, and hired new recruits as a result. ARSA should in no way escape the responsibility of inflicting untold pain and suffering on innocent Rohingya lives.

On the other hand, the international community, including the UN, has been pressuring the Burmese government to focus on the Rohingya crisis. In early 2018, the Myanmar government gave a press interview on the situation in the Rakhine state. During that interview, the Sport and Health Minister said that even though malnutrition is prevalent throughout the country, they have focused their resources more on Rakhine state. The government is also trying their best to return the Rohingyas to Myanmar, and the UN has been taking an active role in using government funding for this particular request.

Father Thomas, former Director of Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Myanmar (CBCM), who has been actively involved with in the Rakhine state minority rights program, said, “In the past, the help (from the international community) was used to meet certain people group’s (Rohingya people) needs while the local people in the area were suffering from that same poverty. It triggered the Rakhine conflict. Are we going to start doing it again?” The imbalance of aid and preferential treatment for the Rohingyas might cause more internal conflicts in a vicious cycle.

“Their suffering remains insignificant, their voices remain unheard, and their wounds remain unhealed. We ought not turn a blind eye to their plight despite the lack of attention.”

Active War Zone Not in Rakhine State

If we were to take a holistic view of the country’s armed conflict crisis, we would discover that the active civil war zone is not in Rakhine state, but other areas such as the Kachin, Shan, and Kayin states. Armed conflicts in eastern Myanmar began around 1958, as many ethnic groups had been demanding independence, regional autonomy, or a federal system of government.

Kachin state, where most of the Kachin Christians live, could say that they had the longest ethnic struggle in the country. In these areas, the army could initiate military attacks at any given moment, and did so many times. Countless cases of displacement, torture, murder, and rape have taken place and still could happen at any time. 80% of the 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPS) are Christians and at least 10 Christian civilians were killed in the latest military offensive in Kachin state last month.

Other Minority Ethnic Groups Equally Seeking Citizenship

The whole world has its eyes on the Rohingya people, who are not being recognized as proper citizens. While Rohingyas face difficulties obtaining official identification cards, many other groups do as well. Ethnic Indian and Chinese citizens as well as minority Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist groups have faced similar struggles.

Many Telugu Indian churches in Yangon have been praying for their National Registration Card (NRC), even though their forefathers’ documents have been sitting on the desks of government agencies since the British colonial era before 1948. As a result, when they travel, they may not use the train which is a cheaper way to travel. Rather, they have to use the costly bus instead.

Ethnic Chinese people are also facing the same issues. A Chinese pastor’s daughter, whose parents both have NRC cards, was denied from taking the train because she didn’t have an NRC card. Moreover, there are many Karen refugees in Thailand who are preparing to return to Myanmar. They only hold the White Card, which is the very first stage of the citizenship process that the Rohingyas also have.

Currently, there are more Kachin IDPs facing the same struggle, if not worse than the Rohingyas. However, you don’t find much information about them in the media outlets. Their suffering remains insignificant, their voices remain unheard, and their wounds remain unhealed. We ought not turn a blind eye to their plight despite the lack of attention.

For interviews with Gina Goh, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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