This week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the ongoing crisis in Myanmar as “ethnic cleansing” against the country’s Rohingya population. Tillerson recently made a fact-finding visit to the Buddhist-majority country, formerly known as Burma.
“After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” Tillerson said. “These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering.”
For those who have been working to assist the Rohingya refugees fleeing atrocities in Myanmar, Tillerson’s statement is a welcome change in tone.
GV Wire contributor Josef Namin is among them. He recently returned from a mission to aid Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Namin runs the non-profit Mercy Refugees House as a volunteer. His organization is funded by a Fresno-based foundation. He shared details from his recent trip, in this GV Wire exclusive.
GV WIRE: What was the purpose of your trip?
JOSEF NAMIN: We wanted to see firsthand and report on the dire situation of the refugees who are stranded in the border area. I went with a team of three people from Bangladesh plus a driver. A journalist was with us from Cox’s Bazar, a city within 2.5 hours of the border.
The Naf River (see video) runs along the border of southeastern Bangladesh and western Myanmar. In the last six months over a hundred people have died while trying to cross the river.
Refugees arrive in Bangladesh after walking for days or waiting on the border for a long time and starving. People swarm the boats run by local fishers trying to help them and often times they drown in the river due to the large number of refugees in the boats. We want the world to know more about the plight of the Rohingya refugees and take action so that they can put pressure on Myanmar’s regime to stop the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Rohingya Muslims.
There are no Bangladeshi boats run by the government and in fact, in the past, Bangladeshi border guards have tried to force the refugees to return back to their own country. We see this happening all over the world where the refugees are not welcomed and are forced to return back to the countries they are fleeing from.
GV WIRE: Describe the refugee situation in that area of Bangladesh.
JOSEF NAMIN: They are suffering from lack of food and shelter. The mothers have no milk to give to their babies and the babies are constantly crying from hunger and lack of clothing. They also suffer from the lack of sanitary conditions and medical care.