|In May of 2017, The Elephant Story recognized the plight of the Rohingya ethnic minority in the Rakhine state of northwest Myanmar. Since that time, some 650,000 of the Rohingya, representing the lion’s share of Islam followers in a predominantly Buddhist country of 53 million people, have fled to Bangladesh. Further, an unknown number are buried in mass graves. Originally, we were critical of Buddhist monks who were inciting the unrest while the most direct blame now clearly rests with General Min Aung Hlaing. The general, who has led the campaign to eradicate these people, is shown below in all of his finery. He exhibits remarkable posture with the weight of all of those “hard-earned” medals on his modest size chest.
The suppression and eradication of these people is popular in Myanmar and has built wide-spread support for the general who has an eye on the presidency. Surprisingly, the general is active on Facebook. However, the introduction of cheap Chinese cell phones in a country where few landlines function has made Facebook an effective tool to incite hatred for the minority Rohingya people.
As the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi controls Parliament, she has been subjected to considerable criticism for not intervening. However, the fact is the military still controls the government through their constitutional parliamentary preemptive veto power. Nonetheless, there is considerable international reaction that Ms. Suu Kyi be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize though that would accomplish little to solve the problem. She is shown below with Htin Kyaw who was named President of Myanmar in 2015. Although Ms. Suu Kyi leads the party, she was disqualified to serve as president since she has two sons by her now-deceased British husband who carry British passports. We happened to be in Yangon when Ms. Suu Kyi was first allowed to leave her house arrest and appear at this fence to see the world.
Although the UN Mission to Myanmar had been silent about the Rohingya situation, in November UN member states called for an end to the military operations by Myanmar that led to the “systematic violation and abuse of human rights” against the country’s Rohingya Muslim community. The resolution urged accountability for the perpetrators.
In reality, the terrors that were encountered in Myanmar have continued into the dire conditions the refugees face in the temporary camps in Bangladesh. Moreover, it is very unlikely that these people will be able to leave these conditions any time soon. Further, the mental anguish suffered by children who lost their parents amid widespread deprivation will scar them for years to come.
On November 27, 2017, Pope Francis made his first visit to Myanmar. He had been advised to exercise discretion regarding the Rohingya situation less it cause further action against them or even the 700,000 members of the Roman Catholic Church. He did have a short visit with General Min Aung Hlaing who subsequently posted on Facebook that “there’s no religious discrimination in Myanmar and there’s the freedom of religion.” Given his lack of truthfulness, it appears the general is well on his way to becoming a successful politician.
On a following visit to Bangladesh, Pope Francis told several Rohingya refugees, “I ask forgiveness. We won’t close our hearts or look away. The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.” The Pope had to tread lightly there as well since some 400,000 Roman Catholics live in a densely populated, Muslim majority country of 160 million. Even in the Christmas mass of Pope Francis at the Vatican, he was a bit guarded to add clarity to his description but everyone understood his message.
At the end of the day, perhaps several images describe the plight of the refugees as they come by sea and by land.