By Firdaus Latif (ROHINGYA Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Mon, May 4, 2015
With No Land to Call Home
I first became aware of the Rohingyas when I came to Thailand a few years ago. I don't know that I can say exactly why they stand out for me, why these people have taken up a spot in my heart when I have yet to even meet any of them. Some things in life just have no explanation and this, for me, is one of those.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Rohingya are people who come from the Rakhine State of Myanmar (formerly Arakan region of Burma), a northern area that borders Bangladesh. They've actually been there a LONG time. According to history, they've been there since the 7th century, yet many in Myanmar say they really come from Bangladesh and want them to go back there.

When I first read about the Rohingya that's part of what resonated with me - the fact that they had lived so long in the area and yet after all that time, they were unwanted, unwelcome, and worse - systematically cleansed from existense in really horrendous ways. Today, the Rohingya are essentially stateless Muslim minorities living mostly in Bangladesh and Myanmar. In 2012 there was a violent uprising in Sittwe during which many of those who remain were segregated, forced to live in essentially designated areas, and that's when I became aware of them. Coincidently, my return to Thailand has come at the very same time that they are again making news in very tragic ways.

This week a camp was discovered up in the hill forests that contained about 30 graves, some of which were Rohingya and also many Bangladeshi migrants. During the last several days, the story has been front page news of the Bangkok Post, each day bringing more devastating news than the day prior. The camp is no longer singular and I've seen them start to be called "death camps".

What has so far been pieced together is that human traffickers have been sending large boats into Myanmar to lure several hundred Rohingya at a time with the promise of jobs. Once the Rohingya are on the boat and transported over to Ranong, a Thai port nearby, they were divided in two groups: one group who had friends or relatives in Thailand and the second were those without. Those in the first group had to call their friends and family and ask for approximately $3000 to buy their freedom. The second group was eventually taken to Mayasia and sold to farmers.

The ransoms weren't always the end of it and regardless the folks swept up by these operations were subjected to really harsh conditions. I read a story about two Rohingya boys who had gone missing after entering Thailand. Their families had received a call asking for money for ransom and they had paid but the boys still weren't delivered. According to some of the reports from survivors the people were forced to trek through the forests with little food or water and were subjected to beatings, abuse, and torture.

The death camps were some of the operational areas for the traffickers and the stories that have come from those who have been rescued are heart-breaking. Human trafficking, particularly in Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar, is really prevalent. In fact, some of the information that came forward in today's paper alone is that there are actually officially who have been snapped up in this investigation, including police, other government officials, and even a mayor. To say that it's hard to comprehend is a gross understatement.

We've all, rich and poor, old and young, experienced what it feels like to not feel like we belong, to feel like there's something we're missing, or some way that we just don't fit in. For most of us, those moments, if not fleeting or temporary, are at least not mirrored back to us in the unimaginable ways experienced by the Rohingya.

What would it feel like to not really be wanted anywhere you showed up? What would it be like to not really feel safe or secure even when surrounded by your own family in a place that your family has lived in for centuries? Sadly, the Rohingya are not the only people who know what those realities are. We're all familiar with the genocides, ethnic cleansings, and brutality that exists in our world.

I wish we could just make it stop, come to our senses and realize the basic human rights we all deserve simply by being alive in our world. Whether we agree with one another or not, look like each other or not, believe in one thing or another... I have to believe one day we will get there, but until then I hope the international community comes to the aid of the Rohingya and everyone like them who is facing similar atrocities in their lives. Like bystanders who do nothing as they watch a crime being committed, we all pay for it if we don't do something about it. We are better than this.

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