While Korean Yanghee Lee, Special United Nations Rapporteur on the situation of human rights is in Myanmar, for a visit from 9 to 20 January, the serious humanitarian situation of the Muslim minority of ethnic Rohingya continues, a population of about 1.2 million people who live in the state of Rahkine, in the western part of the country.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, neighboring state: the
Burmese Government does not consider them citizens, but "illegal
immigrants", depriving them of all rights. This status of
institutionalized discrimination has existed for decades, but in recent
years has continued to worsen: since 2012 social and religious tensions
in the state of Rahkine have started, and the Rohingya have been subject
to violence and persecution promoted by Buddhist nationalist groups who
call for the expulsion by the state.
According to the United Nations, at least 100 thousand Rohingyas have
fled the country by finding refuge in neighboring countries, and about
22 thousand people have done it in the past week alone, after the
Burmese army launched an offensive in the northern state of Rakhine, in
search of "insurgents": a violence that, according to the NGOs could
configure the offense of "crimes against humanity". Other 150 thousand
Rohingya civilians find themselves in refugee camps and need complete
Fr. Stephen Chit Thein, of the Catholic Diocese of Pyay, which includes
the state of Rahkine, is a native of the area near Settwe, where that
population is settled: "I remember the difficulties of communication
with them, since we did not know the Burmese language", he told Fides.
"We are concerned about them, although currently in that strip of land
we do not have Catholic representatives, or priests. There are only
Buddhists. We know that the humanitarian situation is serious, we
express our solidarity, but help is still difficult", he notes.
The Catholic Church, with its structures and charitable organizations
such as Caritas – which in Myanmar is called "Karuna" - is unable to
act: "The government does not allow us to go in the territory or in
refugee camps. No faith-based organization can do it and only a few
international NGOs can bring humanitarian assistance", reports Fr.
Nereus Tun Min, head of "Karuna" in the Diocese of Pyay. "Against our
will - continues Fr. Tun Min - we are only spectators of this crisis.
We understand that the population is suffering a lot. We know all of
their problems, starting from the lack of recognition by the state,
which is the principle of every other discomfort and very harmful
consequences for them".
The head of "Karuna" concludes: "What we can ask, considering the
current presence in Myanmar of the UN Envoy for Human Rights, is that
the new government cooperates to stop this escalation and helps to
manage a situation which has become unsustainable at a humanitarian
point of view, trying to find solutions that are respectful of the
rights and dignity of every human being".
With regards to the ordeal of the Rohingya even Burmese Bishops spoke in
the past. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, speaking of
the new phase of democracy inaugurated in the nation, condemned "the
spread of hatred and denial of rights", referring to the violence
perpetrated by Buddhist fringes against Rohingya Muslims but also
towards the hostility shown towards the people by the Burmese
government. In this and other situations of hardship and social
conflict, the Burmese Catholics, he remarked "have the task of bringing
mercy and announcing mercy".