Humanitarian Crisis: Burmese Muslims Under Threat of Long-Term Segregation

Human Rights Watch says Burma's discriminatory policies against Rohingya Muslims could lead to a permanent, segregated state.

The Burmese government is potentially paving the way for long-term segregation through discriminatory policies against a Muslim minority, Human Rights Watch reports. The New York-based NGO says state officials created a humanitarian crisis by blocking aid from getting to Rohingya and Kaman Muslims displaced in squalid refuges camps.

In June 2012, sectarian violence in the coastal Arakan State forced more than 125,000 Burmese Muslims to take refuge in sordid displacement camps. Since then, the Burmese government has restricted international aid organizations from providing food and medical assistance to the hungry, sick and dying. Additionally, security forces guard the displaced from leaving the camps, further exacerbating the crisis. HRW fears the wet season could turn the already dire situation into a disaster, pointing to heavy rain risks that could “overflow already inadequate and overused latrines, spreading otherwise preventable waterborne diseases throughout the displaced population.”

“The government seems untroubled by the dire humanitarian conditions in the camps in Arakan State but it will be responsible for the lives unnecessarily lost,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “Concerned donor governments should be demanding that the Burmese government produce an action plan to resolve the crisis because continued inaction will only make the crisis worse.”

State officials insist the camps are temporary, but HRW claims the government refuses to present a plan for Royingya reintegration. The United Nations describes the Rohingya, denied Burmese citizenship under a 1982 law, as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

The government has also downplayed the poor camp conditions, with president Thein Sein’s office claiming, “they have enough shelter and food supply for the rainy season.” Meanwhile, former democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi has done little to alleviate the crisis. Last month, Suu Kyi refused to take a position on Rohingya citizenship, explaining that the state “must decide for itself.”

This week, the hacktavist collective Anonymous drew attention to the Rohingya plight through one of its signature Internet campaigns. Calling the movement “Operation Rohingya,” the group used Twitter raise awareness. On Monday, #RohingyaNOW became the number one trending topic on the social media network. Anonymous also shut down 14 Burmese government sites through DDOS attacks.

The group was motivated by a recent wave of violence in the central town of Meikhtilla on March 20 to 22, where clashes between Buddhists and Muslims displaced another 12,000 Muslim minorities, according to OCHA. Buddhists mobs burned at least five mosques to the ground and killed an unknown number of people.

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.

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