Sunday, January 1, 2017

Imagine you are a Rohingya villager by Roland Watson

Imagine you are a Rohingya villager. You live in a small village in Western Burma. You live a simple life, but basically you get by. Actually, you do more than get by. You have a happy family, a rich culture, and a lot of friends.

You know that in the past your people have been targeted many times, by soldiers, police and other agents of the military dictatorship, and by local Rakhine groups. But you have been okay. You, and your village, have not been attacked.

This time, though, it's different. The Burma Army and police are perpetrating a literal "scorched earth" offensive throughout the Rohingya homeland. They have raided village after village and then in many cases burned them down, leaving only the smoldering remains. As they do, they murder or arrest the men (many of the detainees are killed later); rape the women; steal everything of value; and often kill the women, elderly and children as well. You truly are being subjected to an organized, systematic campaign of terror.

What do you do? You are frantic - at night, you're unable to sleep from fear. There is a road directly to your village. They can arrive at any time. You make whatever plans you can, and hope that lookouts and your dogs will give you a moment's warning - a head-start - before truckloads of killers and rapists come.

You have a problem, though. Your area is very flat, just miles and miles of fields. You can run, but it is easy for the killers to follow. All you can do is move as fast and as far as possible, including with the elderly and the children, and hope that they don't catch you.

In this way, your situation is different from the ethnic nationalities who have been terrorized for decades on the other side of Burma: the Mon, Karen, Karenni, Shan, Kachin, and other groups. Many live in the hills. They can run into forests, which offer much better hiding places. Some Karen, for instance, have had to flee so many times that they have learned to hide food supplies and emergency shelters, in the deepest jungles. Of course, the Burma Army soldiers often mine their villages, so they can't return safely, and shoot them on sight if they are caught out in the open. (These areas are also "Black Zones.") Still, their conditions - sometimes at least - allow an easier initial escape.

You don't have that option. You're stuck. You can wait for the killers to assault your home, or you can give up and flee to Bangladesh. (Just as so many refugees in Eastern Burma have fled to Thailand, Laos and China.) But for reasons that aren't that clear, Bangladesh isn't very welcoming at the moment. The country already has large Rohingya refugee camps from earlier periods of repression in Burma. It seems the government just doesn't want to give anyone else sanctuary. Indeed, hundreds of the new refugees have already been forced back.

This is what it means now to be a Rohingya in Burma, although it's not the entire story. Individuals who are injured or sick can't get medical care. There's not enough food, and many people are starving. It's truly monstrous, a living hell.

The famous saying is that you should put yourself in another person's shoes, to really understand them. I wrote this for everyone, especially outside of Burma, who doesn't grasp what is being done to the Rohingya people. They are peaceful. With rare exceptions, they are not fighting back in self-defense. Very few of us have ever experienced anything like this. It is so bad, it's difficult to comprehend. But this is what is taking place. The Rohingya are being exterminated, one by one and in small groups, and suffering incredible brutality before they are killed.

This is abominable. It's genocide. It has to be stopped, now. Anyone who has any power at all to influence the dictatorship of Burma (foremost political leaders and diplomats), starting with its cover propagandist, Aung San Suu Kyi, is obliged to act. If you don't, if you don't want to risk your career, or if you are simply cold-hearted and don't care, then you are a terrible person as well. I don't know how you can live with yourself.

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