As I was scrolling through Facebook on the way to work today, I came across a friend’s detailed political analysis on the Rohingya crisis. I decided to read up more on it, knowing that refugees are one people group Interserve Singapore focuses on.
I’ve met some Rohingya refugees in Klang, at a ministry that serves nationalities from 50 countries, including Somalia, Eretria and Yemen, just to name some. Yes, just a few hundred kilometres north of us, we have refugees from as far as the horn of Africa. Besides Malaysia, there are refugees in neighboring Indonesia too.
The Rohingya crisis is just 3000km away, yet many of us are so insulated from this humanitarian catastrophe. Those who are interested may read updates. And we do so from a safe distance.
In this article, I hope to offer an alternative perspective to help us view world events like this through theological lens. Here are some quick facts.
In 1982, Burma (current day Myanmar) instituted the citizenship law, ruling out the legitimacy and consequently the existence of the Rohingya people. Many in leadership positions claim the Rohingyas are from Bangladesh, taking up resources from Myanmar and harbouring the intent to form a separate state. However, historical records show the Rohingya having lived on this land as far back as the 15th century. They have their own language and do not speak Bengali.
Within a short span of 3 weeks after army and police posts in Rakhine were attacked on Aug 25 by some Rohingya men, thousands of Rohingyas fled for their lives across the border into Bangladesh. At least 50% of women have reported being raped or sexually abused.
Statistics aside, let us look at the scale of their pain and suffering. These refugees have their homes burnt down. They were already poor to start with, and now they lost their homes, their dignity. Their family members tortured, shot and killed too; children thrown into the fire to be burnt alive; women gang-raped at gun point in front of their children. I am not exaggerating these harrowing events. I watched these Rohingya women recount their experiences in front of the camera, tears rolling down their eyes.
After being gang-raped, and having some of their children shot dead, these survivors traveled by foot for many kilometres to a make shift refugee camp. Their shelters are like tents we use for our camping adventures which we zip up to prevent the mosquitos from entering. These tents are so flimsy that when the monsoon rains pour down, their ‘bed’ will be flooded. And usually large families are cramped into these shelters.
From media reports, we learn that the Rohingyas have flooded the region bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar. Talking about flood, the media is also flooded (no pun intended) with news that Bangladesh is struggling with floods. Do you see how these two events that are reported have a compounded effect on Bangladesh? Both the governments of Bangladesh and Nepal have stated their inability to accept and support the Rohingyas as refugees. For the former, it is understandably so because a third of the country is currently flooded.
One third? I know Bangladesh would be the first few countries to claim they are suffering from the effects of global warming, but 1/3 is just crazy. I can’t help but think about one of our partners in Bangladesh. How she is doing over there? Indeed, she is serving in hard places.
So the Bangladeshis’ houses, schools and public infrastructure have been destroyed. Not by the military, but by the floods. Their crops destroyed, their livelihoods lost. And Bangladesh is known as the food basket of the region. So if the floods have destroyed the region’s food basket, that means food insecurity for both the Bangladeshis as well as the Rohingyas, who have fled there.
Having said all these, I can only attempt to imagine the traumatic experiences of the Rohingyas who flee for their lives to only find themselves in another difficult situation. In the words of a Klang tripper, ‘Why would a people, whom God dearly loves, be so despised by their own countrymen?’
As I continue to ponder over these events happening right now just a few thousand kilometres away, in the comfort of a café space, listening to my YouTube playlist, my heart grows heavy. I am gripped with despair. But I am reminded that Jesus incarnated for a broken world. What would we do without Jesus, our hope and salvation?
More of such events will unfold across our broken world. May we continually pray and never lose the hope God has so graciously and faithfully provided. The hope this world so desperately needs.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son…