In the midst of a global pandemic we can often be forgiven for forgetting about other issues going on around the world. We are all busy ensuring we have our face coverings on, stand 2 metres away from everyone and hand sanitising every five minutes. However, I recently stumbled across a poem I wrote regarding one of the greatest atrocities of the 21st century, the Rohingya refugee crisis.
At a time when our government is looking to scrap the department for international development and merging it into the Foreign Commonwealth office it’s important we ask ourselves and the government what are they doing to support, as my former lecturer put it, “the new boat people”.
Who are the Rohingya people?
The Rohingya people are a primarily Muslim ethic group from Myanmar who primarily resided on Myanmar’s west coast. Myanmar (formerly Burma) is itself a predominant Buddhist state and ever since gaining independence from the British empire in 1948 (yeah we are involved again) the government in Myanmar refused to acknowledge the existence of the Rohingya and has been working to oust them from their homes ever since.
As a result of the Rohingya people helping Britain during WW2, Britain had promised the Rohingya population a land of its own as a thank you for all its help during the war. Guess what? Britain didn’t keep its promises and when it had left the area Myanmar saw no reason to give the Rohingya anything and as stated simply denied them any rights and doesn’t acknowledge their existence.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Rohingya people are still being persecuted today. Over 700,000 refugees from Myanmar fled into neighbouring Bangladesh who didn’t particularly want to take them in leaving almost a million people stateless and homeless. Those who didn’t flee are being trapped in Myanmar by the regime with the UN amounting their crimes to genocide. The Myanmar army has been accused of raping, killing and torturing the Rohingya people and raising their land to the ground.
How I was made aware of the Rohingya and how I got involved?
Despite this persecution of Rohingya people by Myanmar being evident since Britain lost control of the area I had only heard about this crisis in late 2017 when my good friend and former lecturer, Dr Tasleem Shakur had started to raise awareness of it. Taz, as he is known by most people, was born in Bangladesh and came over to Britain to study and later work as a lecturer of human geography spending over 20 years as a lecturer at Edge Hill University before retiring in late 2018. Taz, got me involved in helping raise awareness for the Rohingya people and I myself was interviewed on a local TV station in Lancashire about an exhibition he had set up to highlight the horror of the Rohingya persecution. Taz himself was interviewed by BBC North West which gave his campaign some great media attention. This is sadly where I realised how racist our country had become. The comments page on the video was filled with racist remarks and allegations that Taz had brainwashed us students. Thankfully, I and other fellow students stood up for Taz and called out the bigotry and racism. Taz also set up a great event of music, a q and A panel and discussion at the university all about Rohingya and I have to say I have such admiration for this wonderful man who now still inspires me and shares my socialist ideologies.
Is our government doing enough?
As I have previously alluded to, the UK has to hold its hand up and admit its role in this persecution of people in Myanmar. This crisis is ultimately a hangover of British colonial rule that is similar to the situation in Palestine, whereby the British didn’t help or plan for the post-colonial world and instead like we always do left chaos and disorder in its trail.
As a result I feel the UK government has a huge responsibility in order to aid the incredible humanitarian effort in Myanmar and Bangladesh. The department for international development (DFID) has so far claimed to have provided a total of £226 million. The funding will go to help provide food, healthcare, water, sanitation, care and counselling for sexual violence survivors, and protection for vulnerable groups.
Whilst this seems a substantial amount of money it is vital that this money turns into resources which can actually help the Rohingya people on the ground in camps such as Cox’s Bazar. If we take the most recent estimates from the UN there are currently over 700,000 refugees in Bangladesh then the UK aid upto now works out at just over £300 per person of aid. This quite clearly is far from enough. Furthermore, this spending represents just 1.5% of the UK’s official aid budget. Spending such a low percentage on what the UN describe as, ““the most persecuted minority in the world” feels unsatisfactory and I would implore the government to commit more money to the fight against persecution.
In addition to this, the UK should commit to taking and offering refugee and asylum seeker status to as many of the stateless refugees as possible. It is our duty to continue to be a compassionate and caring country in the wider world. It is also good that the UK is committed to keeping EU imposed sanctions against Myanmar as we leave the European Union.
What you can do:
We as voters have a strong say and can influence our MPS to take action. Write a letter to your MP demeanding they ask and lobby government to increase funding for this crisis, accept refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar and ask the government to not scrap the DFID.
I myself will post my letter which I will be sending to my MP and to the secretary of State for international development, Anne Marie Trevelyan MP (who recently shared a racist meme depicting Covid -19 testing kits as fortune cookies, aren’t we lucky) on my twitter account: @kieren4NECYouth
I find writing poetry can be a good way of expressing oneself and things we care about. So, I leave you with this poem I wrote in solidarity with the Rohingya refugees.