ASIA/MYANMAR - Catholics know the plight of the Rohingya, but cannot help them

Thursday, 12 January 2017 religious minorities   persecutions   solidarity   caritas   buddhism   politics   civil society  


Pyay (Agenzia Fides) - While Korean Yanghee Lee, Special United Nations Rapporteur on the situation of human rights is in Myanmar, for a visit from 9 to 20 January, the serious humanitarian situation of the Muslim minority of ethnic Rohingya continues, a population of about 1.2 million people who live in the state of Rahkine, in the western part of the country.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, neighboring state: the Burmese Government does not consider them citizens, but "illegal immigrants", depriving them of all rights. This status of institutionalized discrimination has existed for decades, but in recent years has continued to worsen: since 2012 social and religious tensions in the state of Rahkine have started, and the Rohingya have been subject to violence and persecution promoted by Buddhist nationalist groups who call for the expulsion by the state.
According to the United Nations, at least 100 thousand Rohingyas have fled the country by finding refuge in neighboring countries, and about 22 thousand people have done it in the past week alone, after the Burmese army launched an offensive in the northern state of Rakhine, in search of "insurgents": a violence that, according to the NGOs could configure the offense of "crimes against humanity". Other 150 thousand Rohingya civilians find themselves in refugee camps and need complete humanitarian assistance.
Fr. Stephen Chit Thein, of the Catholic Diocese of Pyay, which includes the state of Rahkine, is a native of the area near Settwe, where that population is settled: "I remember the difficulties of communication with them, since we did not know the Burmese language", he told Fides. "We are concerned about them, although currently in that strip of land we do not have Catholic representatives, or priests. There are only Buddhists. We know that the humanitarian situation is serious, we express our solidarity, but help is still difficult", he notes.
The Catholic Church, with its structures and charitable organizations such as Caritas – which in Myanmar is called "Karuna" - is unable to act: "The government does not allow us to go in the territory or in refugee camps. No faith-based organization can do it and only a few international NGOs can bring humanitarian assistance", reports Fr. Nereus Tun Min, head of "Karuna" in the Diocese of Pyay. "Against our will - continues Fr. Tun Min - we are only spectators of this crisis.
We understand that the population is suffering a lot. We know all of their problems, starting from the lack of recognition by the state, which is the principle of every other discomfort and very harmful consequences for them".
The head of "Karuna" concludes: "What we can ask, considering the current presence in Myanmar of the UN Envoy for Human Rights, is that the new government cooperates to stop this escalation and helps to manage a situation which has become unsustainable at a humanitarian point of view, trying to find solutions that are respectful of the rights and dignity of every human being".
With regards to the ordeal of the Rohingya even Burmese Bishops spoke in the past. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, speaking of the new phase of democracy inaugurated in the nation, condemned "the spread of hatred and denial of rights", referring to the violence perpetrated by Buddhist fringes against Rohingya Muslims but also towards the hostility shown towards the people by the Burmese government. In this and other situations of hardship and social conflict, the Burmese Catholics, he remarked "have the task of bringing mercy and announcing mercy". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/01/2017)