Rohingya lucky to have a plastic tarp as severe tropical storm approaches

By May 15, 2013

Burma (MNN) — There's bad news on the horizon for Burma.

A "severe cyclonic storm" is headed straight for the western coast of Burma, where approximately 140,000 Rohingya are hiding from Burma's government.

Most don't even have a plastic tarp for shelter, says Oddny Gumaer of Partners Relief and Development.

"It's pretty certain that many of them will end up dying, sadly. But I think that's being very realistic," Gumaer states.

According to the UK Met Office–the United Kingdom's national weather service, Cyclone Mahasen is the result of two cloud masses gathering on either side of the equator, effectively feeding off each other.

"Over time, these cloud masses have consolidated and started to rotate to produce twin tropical storms," the Met Office said in a statement. It's the first time since 2009 that cyclone twins have developed in the Indian Ocean, the statement adds.

Only one of the twin storms–Mahasen–is expected to make landfall tomorrow. Bay of Bengal coastlines in both Burma and Bangladesh will be affected.

800,000 to one million Muslim Rohingyas ended up along Burma's coastline after fleeing religious persecution from Arakanese Buddhists and governmental discrimination. They have been described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Since violence broke out in Arakan State in June 2012 between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims—aided by state security forces, at least 140,000 Rohingyas have taken refuge in displacement camps after their villages were destroyed. Tens of thousands of others have fled the country by sea, risking death.

"They've already suffered terribly by having to flee violence; many of them have seen their loved ones get killed in a very brutal way. And then, they've ended up in these makeshift camps that are some of the worst living conditions I have ever seen," describes Gumaer.

"The majority of the people are actually living in nothing. Some of them don't even have a plastic tarp to cover themselves with."

Gumaer's husband is currently in Burma and described his observations to her in a recent phone conversation.

"These people are desperate. They're afraid, they are hopeless, and they feel forgotten by the world," Gumaer recalls.

Partners is meeting some of the Rohingya's basic needs and helping them move to higher ground. They've stood by the Rohingya through ongoing violence and persecution. Now, as storm clouds gather on the horizon, Partners is moving as the hands and feet of Christ.

"Our approach has been to try to meet them at the level where they are. And sometimes, we are not really able to talk about our faith, but we are able to show it with our love, with our actions," says Gumaer.

Because their Muslim faith is part of the Rohingya's identity, Gumaer says it's not always easy to share the Gospel. Simply sitting with the Rohingya and showing them they matter can be enough to break the ice.

As trust begins to build, Gumaer tells them, "I believe in a God that is greater than this. And [i believe] that there is love in the world; you may not believe that now, but there is.

"Just the fact that I am here with you is a proof that God does love you."

She says the Rohingya are only asking for one thing as Partners helps them prepare for the oncoming cyclone: "They'll try to save their plastic tarps," Gumaer says, "but if we could help them afterward, to get bamboo so that they can build a structure, that would be the best."

To learn more about how you can come alongside the Rohingya, click here. You could also share this story on Facebook to speak up for those who have no voice.

"A lot of people think that the situation in Burma is great now, and that since all these reforms have happened, there are no longer any problems in the country," Gumaer explains.

"Well, that is not the truth at all. For many people, the situation has gotten worse in the last couple of years."

Find this story on our Facebook page and hit "Share" to spread the news. Above all else, pray.

"There's still time to pray that the cyclone will turn and blow back into the ocean; that would be the best," says Gumaer. "But also, pray for these people.

"These are wonderful people who deserve a destiny much better than the one they have been given, and so pray for them."

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