How to Help Myanmar’s Muslim Minority
By Nicole Sganga
It’s a question I’ve heard over and over again from readers who learn about the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been asking myself the same thing: “What can we do to help?”
The question is complicated. There is no “perfect solution” to halting ethnic tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Western Myanmar, nor is there one approach to confronting the government persecution of the Rohingyas.
But, for those interested in finding ways to contribute, here are a few concrete steps that might help chip away at the strife in Western Myanmar:
1) One important way of becoming involved in the Rohingya issue is to educate yourself, and then others, by reading up on the situation in Rakhine State. Prior to my journey, I also followed the social media accounts of a number of journalists, academics, and experts stationed in Burma who focus on covering this conflict. On our very first day of reporting, Nick told me that he prepared for his travels in a similar way.
Traveling, when possible, is one of the best avenues for increasing awareness of these ethnic tension. First hand exposure to the tensions in Western Myanmar can be enormously helpful in understanding the roots of the discrimination taking place.
Placing the Rohingya situation within the context of the developing nation of Myanmar is key to understanding the difference between humanitarian concerns of the Rohingya people and the developmental concerns affecting all people in Myanmar. The Rohingyas aren’t the only people living below the poverty line; however, they are the only group denied health care on the basis of their religion.
It can also be useful to harness your social networks to share comprehensive information about the oppression of Muslim Rohingya.
There are a number of news articles detailing the situation in Rakhine State. In addition, here’s a short list of human rights watchdogs to explore, containing important on-the-ground information about the persecution of Rohingyas. Here’s a sample of them:
2) Talk to Washington
One of the greatest obstacles for the Rohingya population is Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law which effectively renders over one million Rohingya stateless. The law prohibits many Rohingya Muslims from holding Burmese citizenship even though they have inhabited the region for generations. Amending this statute is the first step to attaining legal recognition for this population.
The House of Representatives recently passed an important bipartisan resolution offered by Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, “urging the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people.”
With enough support and action from constituents, the Senate may follow suit.
President Obama says he has “deep concern about communal violence that has been directed at Muslim communities inside Myanmar.” But he hasn’t spoken out forcefully for the Muslim minority in Myanmar, a place where the United States has considerable leverage. It’s worth pressuring Obama — a Nobel Peace Prize-winner — to do more to stop brutal ethnic cleansing abroad.
3) Support the cause
A great way to directly engage in humanitarian efforts abroad is to donate time and energy to the cause. I met an incredible 23-year old humanitarian worker named Bex from Partners for Relief and Development. A recent university graduate, she decided to devote her time to joining the non-profit in Myanmar in order to gain on the ground experience working in a humanitarian aid crisis. - Courtesy The New York Times
You can also donate to programs providing food and resources to displaced Rohingya Muslims such as Action Against Hunger and World Food Program. Unfortunately, in late March, international relief organizations were kicked out of the Rohingya camps by Burmese authorities. Some of these life-saving organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, are yet to return.
4) Contribute to the Conversation
This year’s win a trip reporting focused on just one specific area of the world. But that journey is just one chapter of an ongoing dialogue about ending human rights atrocities abroad and in your own backyard. I would encourage readers to add their ideas, thoughts, and opinions by chiming in and commenting below.