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Plight of Rohingya Muslims Continues

Plight of Rohingya Muslims Continues

The persecution and plight of the Rohingya Muslims is nothing new. In fact, the United Nations has identified them as “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living in northern Rakhine State in western Burma. For decades, they have faced severe persecution and violence at the hands of the government.

Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law denies the roughly 1.33 million Rohingya citizenship, in spite of the fact that Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations. Following the riots between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012, some Rohingya were forced into internment camps in the Rakhine State while others fled. Earlier this year, thousands of Rohingya fled the area in rickety and unseaworthy boats to escape continued abuse and persecution.

In May, RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner joined a diverse group of faith leaders who called on President Obama to take immediate action to address the humanitarian crisis facing the Rohingya community in Southeast Asia. In their letter, the faith leaders spoke about the well-documented persecution of the Rohingya community and the resulting refugee crisis in the region as deeply concerning.

“We urge you to appeal to the government of Burma to live up to its commitment to address the humanitarian crisis in western Burma by allowing unfettered humanitarian access, the opening of a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, accountability through an independent international investigation into serious human rights abuses, and equal access to citizenship. Failure of the government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya should result in consequences such as suspension of diplomatic and military exchanges, targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for abuses, and consideration of renewal of broad sanctions.”

The full letter can be read here.

Since then, according to figures released by India’s Bureau of Immigration, approximately 10,565 Rohingya Muslims have entered India and are living in 11 states. Several thousands of others have fled to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Many minority groups and human rights organizations in India have come out in support of the Rohingya people and have taken to the streets and encouraged other Asian countries to join the protest as well. Their leaders have asked for India to provide shelter for refugees and have asked for the government in Burma to end their persecution.

These calls asking the Burmese government to act are nothing new. In June, a senior U.S. official called for Burma to give citizenship to Rohingya Muslims who are fleeing persecution in their historic homeland. As Jews, we know what it is like to be victims of ethnic and religious persecution, and have known the experience of being forced to flee our homes even when other nations will not welcome us.

Our tradition teaches us that "God said to Moses: Is there anyone whom I do not respect? Whether it be Israelite or Gentile, man or woman, slave or handmaid, whoever does a good deed, shall find the reward at its side" (Midrash Yalku Lekh Leka 76). Here we learn that God will judge us based on our deeds, not our religious beliefs, and as we seek to live our lives conscious of being created in God's image, we must work to ensure that no one is discriminated against based on his or her religious beliefs. The Reform Movement will continue to advocate for international religious freedom for Rohingya Muslims and all people until religious persecution is a thing of the past.

For more information on our work on international religious freedom, check out our website.