'Textbook example of ethnic cleansing' said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, referring to the lost generation of the Rohingya in Myanmar. One wishes we had answers for a few innocent questions arising from people around us. “Why must I starve, because I was born here?”, “Why am I blurred, while rest of the globe has vision”, “Why am I born, but still can’t set my foot on a firm ground?”
A huge wave of 'earthians'were forced to flee their homes and escape from unbearable violence and inhumane crimes. Houses were burnt in blocks, their nostrils filled with smoke and eyes fogged with ashes of the beautiful dreams built over years. It didn’t stop there; women were attacked brutally, gang-raped repeatedly till their souls burnt along with the rest.
When you find soldiers of your own nation – supposed to protect you from enemies - turn against you, then what security do you expect there? Children grew up realizing the kind of humanity that exist on earth, but the reality in front of them is far for them.... Hence, they began to hunt for humanity somewhere outside their own nation. Their endless journey across the borders and seas in quest of a second home started decades ago and still continues. At present, thousands are bound to stay in overcrowded camps, living uncivilized life with faded hopes. The remaining are still in the darkness of sea starving to death, waiting for a ray of hope to shine on them. As of refugees, children comprise the majority who were unfortunate to begin their life with broken childhood, in squalid living conditions, poor health and immunity, carrying the burden of illiteracy at a very primary stage. The future of these growing children is imperilled, in fact the longer they remain out of school the more imperilled they become. . Teenage girls who are supposed to be mothers of next generation are pushed to start a family, without having any choice, but to take on poverty.
Destiny is always influenced by the past; so rewind a bit in history. In the historical land of Arakan, the present Rakhine State – which was an independent coastal kingdom in what is now Myanmar, lived an ethnic community. It was a key centre of maritime trade and cultural exchange back in 1430’s – the home of the ethnic group called the Rohingya. This same ethnic minority is considered “the most persecuted minority in the world”, as United Nations put it. The story behind that persecution has its roots in Britain’s colonization of Burma followed by modern-day Myanmar’s refusal to recognize the existence of a people who existed for centuries.
Officially denied Burmese citizenship since 1982, the Rohingya had not even earlier been treated as citizens. Deprived of any right to receive essential services and means of support, they did not have the right to travel either. Living in a country, but yet treated as illegal immigrants from a neighbouring one– Bangladesh – the Rohingya were stripped also of their right to the arable land they had; instances of mistreatment are many. Persecution was all that they received from the land they lived in.
Caught in the midst of Covid-19, we now realize that our accustomed life style is no more normal. Neither the money in our bank nor the wealth in our lands can help us fight it. While we run to reserve toilet papers, sanitizers and masks, for the refugees, simply washing hands with soap is a luxury. Most of them are untrained about the disease while we can keep the count of cases up-to-date. When lockdown has put our life at stake, they are very familiar with the situation years ago. “They say hunger will kill us before virus” quoted Raqib Naik of Al-Jazeera. Once the Covid-19 virus begins to spread in their cramped and overcrowded camps, which house hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, it will certainly result in a major humanitarian catastrophe of a magniture that the world may not have witnessed till now.
Ethnic cleansing is a disastrous experience that easily gets compressed in a few lines of newspapers. If a similar condition hits us, we would also be living in those camps with hunger and poverty at the same time when many watch us with sympathy as we are watching now – nothing more nothing less. While the negotiation for their repatriation continues, a generation of traumatized children wait for their future to begin. Education alone can be life-saving so that the children can have a better tomorrow.
Covid-19 is a wakeup call for us: if we close our eyes on those unfortunate children, divine justice wouldn’t mind shutting its wings of kindness and blessing on us! Then whatever we are going through now, might be a compensation for the tears shed by an orphan.
As Manuel Fontaine (UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes) rightly stated, “This is a crisis without a quick fix that could still take years to resolve unless there is a concerted effort to address the root causes”.