Burma (MNN) — Burma’s Rakhine state is in turmoil, and there’s little the outside world can do about it. This area of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is home to the Rohingya, a small, impoverished, religious ethnic group. Their recent past is dotted with tension that commonly burns into violence with their neighbors and the Burmese government.
In October, nine police were killed along the Burmese-Bangladesh Border. The government pointed fingers at the Rohingya. Several sources, including the Human Rights Watch, say the Burmese government quickly put the Maungdaw township on lockdown, where many of the Rohingya live.
The BBC says since then an estimated 10,000 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, joining the thousands of refugees already living there. With them, they brought along stories of the atrocities taking place in their home.
Human Rights Watch shares reports of torture, rape, burning houses and mosques, and murder as violence between the Burmese army and Rohingya exploded. The Rakhine state is in need of humanitarian aid, but the government continues to refuse access.
Yesterday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a detailed report about the complicated situation facing the Rohingya. One of the concerns raised in the report is that Islamic extremism has the potential to grow out of the resentment building among this people group. The Rohingya are not recognized as citizens, in fact the government insists on referring to them as illegal Bengalis. Last year, a series of laws were passed which further restricted the rights of religious minorities like Christians and Muslims. You can read that in detail here.
The USCIRF also says the Rohingya have no identification, are not allowed free movement through the country, and do not even have access to health care.
Needless to say, the relationship between the Rohingya and Burma is complicated. Dyann Romeijn of Vision Beyond Borders says despite the government’s refusal to view them as citizens, many of them have been in Burma for generations and consider it home.
She says, “They’re not granted any rights that a citizen of Burma would have, and so they’re very, very persecuted. There’s about 120,000 [Rohingya refugees] in camps and [they] have been in camps since 2012, so over four years.”
In these camps, she explains, there is very little aid given out. It’s a destitute situation, especially given the fact that the government rarely allows foreigners to visit. Because of this, exact details of what is happening are obscured. The Rohingya have no voice.
Even so, there is a glimmer of hope.
“Our contact that we work with in Burma does have some ties to the government there. And so, he’s able to actually go in and it’s been interesting how God is kind of orchestrating that, but He’s allowing him to be one of the mediators in the conflict between the Buddhist government and the Rohingya,” Romeijn says.
Reconciliation is a key ingredient of the Gospel — not only reconciliation with God, but with others. According to the Joshua project, 100 percent of the Rohingya are Muslim. The Gospel is not known among them. And so, our work starts with prayer.
Romeijn says we can pray that Christians in Burma would bring the message of peace into this situation.
“Just really be praying for the hearts of people. There’s such bias towards these people, against the Rohingya, from the Burmese that it’s very difficult for them to even want to negotiate. But if they could just see them as people — as human beings created in the image of God that have value and worth, and understanding their plight — that they have children they love and they’re trying to raise, and understand that, that there would just be some compassion towards these people.”