Labelled as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya people are not even recognised by their own government as one of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic groups. Denied citizenship since 1982, they are trapped, unable to leave Rakhine state without government permission.
From the Rathedaung township, on the west coast of Myanmar, a 12 year old Rohingya girl describes the horrific realities of the day she fled to Bangladesh. As the Myanmar security forces and Rakhine Buddhist individuals surround her house, she describes the scene:
"It was a situation of panic – they shot my sister in front of me, she was only seven years old. She cried and told me to run. I tried to protect her and care for her, but we had no medical assistance on the hillside and she was bleeding so much that after one day she died. I buried her myself.”
This impoverished group of over 1 million Rohingya have been experiencing a slow, yet systematic ethnic cleansing as restrictions on education, health and livelihood continue to increase. This situation has experienced two significant escalations in recent years, the most recent in August 2017 leading to the Rohingya becoming the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.
A September 2017 United Nations report reveals numerous clearance operations being undertaken by Myanmar’s military in relation to the Rohingya people. These operations include: arresting cultural figures or leaders, removing access to food, livelihood and other daily activities, driving out the Rohingya villagers en masse through violence, and instilling fear and trauma in the Rohingya people through acts of brutality such as rape and torture. Of the 800,000 Rohingya who have fled for Bangladesh, 60 per cent of these are children. Staggeringly, around 56 per cent of Rohingya women have reportedly been subjected to rape. Shanti Khana (peace houses) have been established within the refugee camps for women and children, in the hope to provide healing for those affected by trauma. The distress these women have endured cannot be understated, and while their stories are difficult to digest, they must be told.
Save the Children tells the story of a 14 year old girl who was gang raped by military soldiers in front of her entire village. The girl’s parents were killed in an attempt to save their daughter. The 40 year old woman who recounts the story tried to help nurse the badly injured girl back to health when she tragically died four days later.
Amidst the scale and horror of the crisis, there are now two further arising challenges. World Vision CEO Claire Rogers indicates they are expecting a large number of births among Rohingya women in April (many due to the sexual violence described), coinciding with the rainy season.
Andrew Gilmour, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, expresses his concerns of a ‘crisis within a crisis’ resulting from the heavy rains predicted to hit the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Having suffered so much from the man-made disaster inflicted by Myanmar, the fear is that this will be compounded by a natural disaster of heavy rainfall that will almost certainly lead to landslides and flooding.
Caring for the Widow, Orphan and Refugee
I feel a deep sense of injustice when I read stories of fellow women, vowing not to have any more children out of fear - that if they were to return to Myanmar, the military would kill their children.
I believe as Christians, we are called to show mercy, restore hope, and provide restoration. Jeremiah 22:3 speaks of the social injustice experienced by the most vulnerable; the orphan’s, widows and the refugees. The prophet implores the Israelites to fulfil their covenant with God by having a special concern for those who suffer the most under corruption.
When the forces of injustice seem unsurpassable, we can draw strength and encouragement from the Bible. Justice is a cause that God calls all of us to, one He cares about deeply and one He will guide us to victory in.
- For the fatherless; children who have lost their parents to violence, and children whose mothers were brutally violated [Psa 10:14]
- For the widow; women who may have no other family to support their own needs, nor that of their dependants [Psa 68:5]
- For the refugee; people who do not experience safety and stability, but have the very core elements of their lives ripped from under their feet [Zep 3:19]
Although a reminder that our God is good and cares for the case of the Rohingya people is truthful and important, I am almost certain we would unanimously agree, it's not enough.
God calls His Church to work together for His Kingdom, each according to their part [1 Corinthians 12: 12 -26]. I see of story of Moses and Aaron as an instructive example for us. While God anointed Moses for a purpose, he believed he lacked the skill and confidence required to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of his nation. His brother, Aaron possessed this ability, and was brought alongside Moses. Together, they pulled off the mammoth task of freeing the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians.
In a similar sense, I see a kingdom relationship between those who speak up and plead the case of the oppressed, and those anointed to be the literal hands and feet to those in need.
This leaves us with two points of action:
- Be the “Aaron” for the Rohingya. Even if your eloquence feels more like that of Moses, you have the position of privilege to advocate the case of the refugee.
- Pray for the “Moses”. We cannot all get on a plane and shelter a Rohingya refugee tomorrow, nor should we all do this. Ask God to raise up His people who are well placed to actively serve the Rohingya population, such as this beautiful interpreter, dreaming for girls education in her own community and for the Rohingya she serves.
The enormity of these issues can be paralyzing. But now is the time to take action, and with God leading us, be a voice on behalf of those do not have one. Here is a fantastic starting point from Tear Australia, from part of their Lent prayer series:
"You care for the refugee. We pray for your love and protection for the Rohingya people. May they experience the peace that only you can give. We know that in the midst of this crisis, you are sovereign and have not forgotten them. We pray for all and especially those who are vulnerable – the young children separated from parents, pregnant mothers and those with a disability. In the midst of despair we know you are with us. Be with us and all those who are trying to bring comfort, food and shelter. We pray that you be among the Rohingya, God be with us. Amen"
For further information and more ways to act:
Image credit: A Rohingya boy carries a child after after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain