And my life's cold winter that knew no spring;
Of my mind so weary and sick and wild,
Of my heart too sad to sing.
-- Paul Laurence Dunbar
The world now has more refugees than at any time since after WW2, more than the population of Britain.
They are often the consequence of wars usually instigated by great
powers directly or through proxies. Civil strife accompanied by the
demonization of minorities, killing and expulsion is another reason.
Such is the story of the Rohingya in Burma, or Myanmar as it now likes
to be known.
is a country with the river Irrawaddy as a central artery. Bordering
it is the heartland, peopled by the Bamar who make up 68 percent of the
population and are Buddhist. The Rohingya are Muslim, look different
and have lived in Rakhine state for at least five centuries. During WW2
they supported the British while the Buddhist Burmese supported the
Japanese, their coreligionists. It brought lasting enmity. After years
of propaganda and vilification, the Rohingya were stripped of
citizenship. Not unlike Nazi Germany targeting Jewish people, new restrictive laws curtailed liberties, marriage
rights, even children -- limited to two. The vilification turned most
neighboring Buddhist villages against the Rohingya, and those attacking and burning their villages were often these neighbors when not the military.
In this latest violence, 90 percent of the Rohingyas were driven out
and about three-quarters of a million sought refuge across the
border in Bangladesh. The story does not end with the Rohingya for
there are other threatened minorities in Burma occupying the periphery in the north
northern Shan state, a simmering conflict with the Taang National
Liberation Army dating back to 1963 has displaced 300,000. The army emboldened by the
relatively meek response to the assault on the Rohingyas have
intensified their efforts also against the ethnic Kokang's Myanmar
National Democratic Alliance Army. The consequence is an addition to the tens of thousands that had streamed from earlier conflicts over the border
into China. Also in the north the largely Christian Kachin minority
formed the Kachin Independence Army to defend their villages. The
ongoing conflict has displaced more than 135,000 internally. And in the south the conflict with the Karen
(Buddhist, Animist and 15 percent Christian) resulted in over 100,000
refugees ... this
time in Thailand, plus a 100,000 diaspora to the rest of the world
including some 65,000 in the US. Myanmar's perverse antipathy towards
all its minorities makes a mockery of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to
Aung San Suu Kyi, its leader. Is meaningful censure an answer, or is
tribalism an unconquerable primitive amygdala response?
The top five refugee-hosting countries
might also come as a surprise. Amid all the news of Angela Merkel's
generous offer to accept everyone entering her country, Germany is not
one of them. Shortly thereafter her party lost by-elections and she is departing. The actual figures are Turkey (3.5 million), Pakistan (1.4 million),
Uganda (1.4 million), Lebanon (1 million) and Iran (0.98 million). The
chaos in countries adjoining them (think of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia) explains why, and the great power with
a finger in each pie, when not actually baking it, is also not
difficult to discern.
being forced to flee with just the clothes on your back or just a bag.
A word here also for the people who had to do just that to escape
wildfires. They all have our heartfelt sympathy, often taking a
concrete form through donations to help. A happy new year to everyone
and a better one for the unfortunate among us.
We can try to make it so.