‘‘Where is Humanity?’’
Millions of human beings on the move all over the world are putting the global political and economic system on trial, exposing its rhetoric about human rights for what it really is: a callous disregard for the mass of humanity suffering economic destitution, ethnic violence, climate disaster, perpetual war and terror.
More than a million Rohingya, who have lived for generations in Burma's Rakhine province, have been declared a non-people in their own country since 1982. Subjected to perpetual ethnic cleansing and concentrated into squalid camps by Buddhist security forces, thousands have packed into tiny boats dubbed "floating coffins" provided by profiteering smugglers. They are taken out to sea, along with poor Bangladeshis and other South Asians escaping poverty—all trying to find a place to live. When navy vessels of neighbouring countries—Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia—encounter them, a few provisions are handed out if they're lucky, but then the vessels sail away.
Australia's anti-immigrant Prime Minister Tony Abbott not only adamantly shut down any suggestion the Rohingya could go there, but, in violation of international law, has his forces stop boats and reward each member of smuggling crews $5,000 to take refugees to Indonesian waters. Bodies keep washing up on shores. Many of those who manage to land alive are discovered later in mass graves in Thailand and Malaysia.
Israeli writer Ben Samuels aptly compared the Rohingya flotilla to the SS St Louis, which in 1939 was packed with Jews escaping the Holocaust, many of whom were killed upon returning to Europe after they were denied entry everywhere including Miami, where the State Department declared they'd have to "await their turns."
Burma is a country of many minorities who have suffered racial violence at the hands of Burmese nationalistic Buddhists. The Muslim Rohingya face genocidal elimination. A week before an emergency meeting of local powers in Bangkok, which supposedly reversed the policy of turning stranded refugee boats back out to sea, Burma passed a Population Control Health Care Bill, making it a law that women in areas having a high population growth rate, that is, Muslim areas, space each child at least three years apart.
"Democracy" is supposedly on the agenda in Burma today, yet the iconic leader of the movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose father was a Burmese nationalist, refuses to even mention the existence of Rohingya. "A country that... fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country."
Another flotilla of boat people fleeing war, terror, poverty and even climate change in Africa have faced a similar fate in the Mediterranean. When, in a single incident, as many as 900 perished off the coast of Libya in April Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi saw it as a moment of truth for Europe’s oft-touted Enlightenment humanism. Today’s refugee deaths are not accidental but are a direct result of European authorities’ calculated and barbaric neglect : cutting their sea rescue capacity in an effort to keep out fleeing immigrants.
Vol. 48, No. 3, July 26 - Aug 1, 2015