Hundreds of thousands displaced, thousands of homes burnt, thousands thrown in interment camps, and scores of murders.
How could this be? It’s simple – and it comes down to the money.
In 2011, Myanmar granted approval for deep-water oil exploration covering nine ocean blocks in the Bay of Bengal. In April 2013, Myanmar accepted bids on 30 offshore blocks for exploration from (but not limited to) Chevron, Total (France), PPTEP (Thailand), EPI Holdings (Hong Kong), Geopetrol International (Malasia).
All of this crude needs some place to go. Thus, MOGE and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) began the Shwe Gas Project to construct a pipeline. This 500 mile pipeline transects 21 Burmese townships between the Arakan state port of Sittwe and the Shan State northern border to the Yunnan Province in China. The Shwe Gas Project is going forward despite there being no environmental impact or social impact studies.
As result, the Rohingya feel the brunt of progress. Daily “fighting” occurs along the Shwe pipeline. Mass killings have been levied upon the Rohingya in June 2012, October 2012, and most recently in March 2013. Mass graves have been uncovered. Rohingya are subject to curfews and land seizures.
While multinational corporations stand to profit the most, are they culpable?
Ethnic tension has been felt in Myanmar (formerly Burma) dating at least to World War II, when Rohingya Muslims sided with Allied forces and served as spies – many Rohingya were killed in the aftermath.
A 1982 law Citizenship Law identified eight “national races” of Burma (not include the Rohingya) in the wake of the 1978 cleansing of 200,000 Rohingya. Another 250,000 Rohingya fled in 1991-92. As result of the Citizenship Law, Rohingya (who once accounted for one third of the population) are not legally permitted to open a business or even to marry – 800,000 Rohingya have no rights as citizens of Myanmar, and account for only two percent of the population.
These are a people without a country; without a home. Neither neighboring Bangladesh, Thailand, nor India seem willing to accept any more refugees.
“Well, why we should allow to enter our country?” – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh
While numbers are hard to pin down – at least 125,000 Rohingya have been displaced (as of July 2012), at least 500 have drowned.
The Rohingya are forced to choose between starving in internment camps, and taking their chances at sea. 1800 Rohingya “boat people” washed up on Thailand beaches in January 2013 alone.
Perhaps it is because the Rohingya are Muslim. Perhaps the western world has accepted the narrative that all Muslims are guilty of terrorism simply by association.
Surely this cannot be the case. Surely we would not view all world issues through a lens of religious-based bias. Surely we would not condemn 1.5 billion people as terrorists – simply because of who they pray to.
The Dalai Lama has expressed that he is “deeply saddened.”
One very big question remains; where is that great bastion of hope and democracy – Aung San Suu Kyi?
He added – “I believe deeply that this country can transcend its differences, and that every human being within these borders is a part of your nation’s story.”