The Rohingya: has the world learnt from Rwanda?

Have you heard about the Rohingya people? They are a people found in the Myanmar (Burma) frontier with Bangladesh. Like other border communities the world over, they are found on both sides of the border.

Have you heard about the Rohingya people? They are a people found in the Myanmar (Burma) frontier with Bangladesh. Like other border communities the world over, they are found on both sides of the border. 

Yet this normal occurrence has brought them untold misery. They are a minority on the Myanmar side and are of Indo-European ancestry as compared to their countrymen who are more of Mongoloid.

They are also predominantly Muslim in contrast to the Buddhist majority. They have, therefore, all along been seen as outsiders. The government’s official position has been that they are foreigners.

That was bad enough, or so it seemed. Yet things got worse for them in the last five years. They have found themselves being violently evicted with their homes attacked, people killed and entire villages burned down. These actions fit very well within the definition of genocide. And yet the world has kept silent.

In the last few years, they sought refuge in Thailand. The conditions there were not good but it was better than the death and destruction they came from.

Now things have taken a turn for the worse. Shiploads of about 2,000 Rohingya peoples have been denied entry into ports of Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh. They have been stranded at sea starving, dying and hopeless. The world is still silent.

This global silence is disturbing, especially for us in Rwanda, as we mourn and honor our countrymen who died as a result of the Genocide against the Tutsi 21 years ago. It is disturbingly familiar.

Then, as now, international community left Rwandans to their own devises in the hour of need.

There was a global silence. It is only after the Genocide against the Tutsi, when Rwanda started posting serious and unmistakable signs of progress that we started seeing international dignitaries and organizations come around and offer their heartfelt apologies; this was aptly capped in those now famous two words; NEVER AGAIN.

This is not to take the international community on a collective a guilt trip. Rwanda forgave and moved on. However, we cannot fail to ask; did the international community mean it when it declared ‘Never Again’? If so, how do we explain the continued double standards and contradictions?

Apart from the Rohingya, there are the African migrants to Europe who die by their hundreds in the Mediterranean. There seems to be an international inertia in delving into and attempting to solve this problem.

After all, these are illegal migrants that Europe does not want. One wonders how putting navy patrols off the Libyan coast (which itself violates Libyan rights to her waters) will solve this.

The hypocrisy of European response is not lost on us in Africa. After all, about a hundred or so years ago, Europeans illegally migrated to Africa, proceeded to conduct actions that would easily qualify as terrorist and partitioned and enslaved us in the name of colonialism.

The disruption of the then existing socio-economic order is the cause of division of the Rohingya into both Bangladesh and Myanmar. Certainly, the borders were not made with their best interest in mind and it has never served their best interest.

It is also the disruption of socio-economic and political orders that is a major contributor to the warped mindset that makes these young Africans want to migrate to Europe to seek what they perceive as a better life – at whatever cost.

What is most disturbing is that the double standards extend to refugees. While African countries like Rwanda and Kenya, among others, are reminded of their ‘international obligations’ to host refugees and host them by their thousands for as long as 20 something years, the developed countries in the ‘international community’ do not wish to touch them with a pole. How else do you explain the Rohingya and the migrants’ situations?

Rwanda, and indeed Africa, can teach the world a lesson in compassion here. With meager resources they still find it in their hearts and in their land to accommodate unfortunate refugees without much fuss. It seems that it is only African countries where this happens.

Rwanda needs to remind the world of its promise of ‘Never Again’ that was made after Holocaust and then the Genocide. May be this way we can save the Rohingya and others who are being moved along this dangerous trail.

The other more silent and insidious lesson to be learnt is; s/he who has nothing is nothing, The only person who genuinely cares about you is you.

Sam Kebongo is a Project Management and Entrepreneurship Development Consultant based in Kigali.



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