Shoks Mnisi Mzolo – Cii News | 07 Shabaan 1436/27 May 2015
On May 29, the south-east Asian bloc will meet to discuss the Rohingya question. Rohingyas endure daily hardship in their homeland, Myanmar. Much as this is their home they, ironically, have no citizenship to speak of. They were stripped of their birthright three decades ago and, to this day, continue to be persecuted by their kinsmen in that tiny Asian country. Such desperation explains why thousands of Rohingyas fled Myanmar and ended up in the ocean, and in turn exposed themselves to merciless human traffickers and unpredictable stormy seas.
“(This daring attempt to flee by boat, putting their lives at risk) instead of being at home says a lot about the status of home,” Advocate Shabnam Mayet told Sabahul Khair. The advocate is one of the founding members of civil-based Protect Rohingya, and member of the Johannesburg Bar. At less than 1 million, the Rohingya, based in the north of the Asian state, are one of the more than 100 groupings in a country of 50 million-plus.
Mayet, who again commended the Gambia for offering to resettle the community, argued that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a regional club, holding a special meeting on Friday, should keep its eyes on the bigger picture. The problem is not that there are thousands of people ended up on the Andaman – that, on its own, is the manifestation or symptom. The issue is that Myanmar practices apartheid and is genocidal. Furthermore, this terror-backed persecution has been going on for decades while the globe, notably superpowers like Washington and London, play oblivious, noted Mayet, accusing the West of complicity. From this angle, Asean, and the world, should isolate Myanmar and coerce her to cease apartheid – a crime against humanity.
Practically, just how bad are things in Myanmar that? What is the plight of the Rohingyas, the Asian nation’s stateless and internal refugees? The upshot, noted Mayet, is that the Rohingyas are both imprisoned and excluded. Human rights abuses are rife in Myanmar and burning of Rohingya homes, to force them to flee, is not a crime.
“From 1978 (the military government), has always suppressed Rohingya. And then, in 1982 that culminated in them revoking the citizenship. So, it’s been a long time without citizenship and as you know, without your citizenship there’s no right to learn. Education becomes a problem. Political access becomes a problem. So if you’re saying that someone is no longer a citizen but they’re not a foreign, you’re basically putting them in prison,” Mayet said, also referring to right wing 969, a terrorist group led by Islamophobic monk Ashin Wirathu. “On top of all of that your government is watching while police are complicit in brutalising them.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a pro-social justice cleric and Nobel Peace laureate, continues to speak out against the apartheid in Myanmar where it is, ironically fellow men of cloth, monks, who persecute fellow human beings. Aung San Suu Kyi, a political activist and fellow Nobel laureate, has, in contrast, sided with the oppressor to this end. Her and her party’s stance on Rohingya is “unacceptable”, Mayet said. Further, superpowers, according to the advocate, have allowed the status quo because they reward Napydaw’s “bad behaviour”. She noted with disappointment that continued economic and trade relations between Myanmar and the world.
In recent years, noted Mayet, when he addressed the Myanmar parliament, the Archbishop spoke out against the institutionalised discrimination there. “(He) said to them that if they wanted freedom then it would have to be for all the citizens of Burma, together. They can’t put in one law, you know, for the rest of Burmese citizens – there are about 135 minority groups, and not accept the Rohingya as a minority group, and not offer them any of their rights.”
Asean, whose meeting on Friday will focus on the symptom rather than the root cause, would do well to heed the Archbishop’s advice. President Thein Sein, a military man, and his Napydaw’s apartheid regime should be isolated until the status quo is defeated. Washington and London, among all other governments, cannot afford to stand back while Sein’s slow-motion genocide and apartheid “cleanse” the Rohingya. Ordinary people like you, Mayet urged, should keep pressure on their governments while also offering aid (money and goods) to the persecuted minority.
Umar Stambuli – Cii News | 08 Shabaan 1436/28 May 2015
The plight of the Rohingya refugees, who have continually faced persecution in Myanmar, has in recent weeks caught global attention. Their plight has for long been swept under the carpet. However pictures showing rickety boats packed with starving people touched hearts of many in the world.
It became more painful when Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia who have come under international criticism turned away ill-equipped ships full of desperate refugees directing them in the towards neighbouring nations.
More than 3,000 Rohingya have reached the shores of several South Asian nations in just the last week alone, with aid agencies concerned that thousands remain stranded at sea.
While some Asian countries were pushing the Rohinya Muslims away, an unexpected offer came from Gambia, a small West African country that announced in an online statement it was welcoming the “boat people” in its country.
Gambia welcomes Rohingya
“The Gambia being a country with a predominantly Muslim population and with a natural culture of interfaith tolerance, hereby expresses willingness to accept and will resettle all ‘boat people’ who wish to reside in The Gambia. In this regard we appeal to all countries with a conscience to assist in bringing the Rohingya to The Gambia for resettlement,” read the statement.
Its Consul to South Africa Seedy Lette reiterated his government’s commitment in housing the world’s most persecuted people.
“Gambia has from longest time been the most accommodative, especially in those countries where there had been upheavals. The people (Gambians) would shelter and accommodate them in their own homes which I think is actually very unique,” he said pointing that it would be a first time though for the country to have people of diverse ethnicity and culture.
“We don’t know how it will pan out because it would be a first time such a diverse culture to be integrated into the country. But given our history of religious tolerance, our history of accommodating people and welcoming visitors which has panned over hundreds if not thousands of years, I don’t think it would be a problem,” said Lette.
He added that their main priority was to bring the Rohingya from the impending danger in the sea, restoring their dignity before they set out programmes to integrate them into the society.
“There would be a dialogue to bring about a lasting solution, and that dialogue would involve Indonesia, Malaysia, the government where they came from, and our governments so that we have a global solution to a global crisis,” he said.
But should Gambia be taken seriously?
After handing this generous proposal to the Rohingya, it has been met with misgivings with many questions asked on whether the Yayeh Jammeh ruled nation has the capacity.
Interestingly, its own citizens are risking lives in the Mediterranean Sea seeking better prospects in Europe. In the first two months of 2015 alone, the number of Gambians entering Italy hit 2,099.
The International Organisation for Migration says out of the nearly 43,000 maritime arrivals to Italy in 2014, more than 8,000 were Gambian, making it the third highest country of origin behind Mali and Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation.
Many of those leaving the country cite an economic crisis while some allegedly flee for political reasons, which has put a black a spot on Gambia’s human rights record.
Reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International indicate that Gambian authorities have detained incommunicado, depriving of all contact with the outside world, dozens of friends and relatives of people accused of involvement in a coup attempt since January 2015.
The country’s leader Jammeh has been in the media much than he likes for human rights abuse, his unfounded claims that he cure AIDS, jailing opponents and crackdown on the media.
Kenyan journalist Isaac Sagala told Cii News that it Gambia made a big-hearted initiative but Jammeh’s antics shouldn’t be ruled out.
“The president is another thing altogether. It’s probably a public relations antic considering its one of the poorer countries in the continent. Could it perhaps be a channel to target foreign aid? You know NGO’s thrive on conflict and are heavily funded,” he said
It seems Sagala’s misgivings are shared by Jeffrey Smith, an advocacy officer with Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Human Rights. He told VICE News that there may be many reasons for the offer, but it likely has nothing to do with Jammeh’s concern for the Rohingya refugees.
“Let’s be clear, Jammeh did not make this announcement because he genuinely cares about the plight of the Rohingyan people,” Smith said. “It’s a clever tactic, but transparently self-serving.”
According to Smith, Jammeh is looking to secure positive media attention to offset the windfall of negative stories that have come out in recent months regarding his “increasingly deplorable” human rights record at home. Smith said the leader is also looking to burnish his Islamic credentials in the pursuit of financial aid.
“Funding from the West for his his abusive regime has dried up,” Smith explained. “By seeming to publicly side with the Rohingyas, Jammeh is attempting to garner goodwill with potential new allies who can fill that funding void.”
Last year the European Union withdrew millions of Euros of funding in response to the poor human rights record in the country. Similarly, in December the US cut the Gambia out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a long-standing regional trade agreement.
Following this untimely setback, Gambia had to seek funding from Muslim countries, with Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar coming aboard.
LISTEN to Cii Radio’s Interview the Gambian Consul General to South Africa HERE