LONDON (Alertnet) – Activists from one of the world’s most persecuted minorities have called for U.N. peacekeepers and international observers to be sent to western Myanmar where an explosion of violence has left scores of people dead and displaced more than 100,000.
Simmering tensions between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas in volatile Rakhine State first boiled over in June. The clashes were followed by further bloodshed in late October.
Rohingya organisations around the world declared Nov. 8 a global day of action to draw attention to the plight of Rohingyas in Myanmar, and called for demonstrations outside Myanmar embassies and foreign ministries.
In a joint statement signed by groups in 10 countries around the world, they called for a U.N. Commission of Inquiry into the violence and full access for delivery of aid. Rights groups have said the Rohingyas' plight has made them one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
An estimated 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar but they are officially stateless. The Buddhist-majority government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.
Bangladesh, which does not recognise them either, has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992 and the United Nations calls them "virtually friendless".
Thousands of homes have been destroyed in the recent violence and neighbourhoods have been burned to the ground, according to advocacy group Refugees International.
Tens of thousands of Rohingyas are now living in overcrowded camps with little water, sanitation or medical help. Rakhines have also been displaced but in far smaller numbers.
Melanie Teff, a senior advocate with Refugees International who visited Rakhine State in September, told AlertNet that conditions in the Rohingya camps “ranged from bad to utterly appalling”. A survey in August identified 2,000 acutely malnourished children at risk of dying.
Barriers have been erected on roads separating the two communities. Teff said restrictions on the movement of the Rohingyas meant many people had been cut off from their livelihoods.
Donors and aid agencies are worried that the displacement could lead to prolonged segregation which would entrench the Rohingyas’ marginalisation.
The statement, signed by Rohingya groups in Myanmar, Britain, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, also demands Myanmar repeal its 1982 citizenship law to end the Rohingyas’ stateless condition.
See also: AlertNet’s multimedia package Statelessness: The world’s most invisible people