More From Alder's Ledge

January 15, 2013

Starvation Fuels Slavery

Exportation Helping Complete Ethnic Cleansing
(part of The Darkness Visible series)

(It is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts. Koran 22:46)

Since the October pogroms the Rakhine officials and Myanmar's government have been enforcing a campaign of mass starvation amongst the Rohingya population of Burma. The method of killing those who refuse to leave changed from mass murder to mass starvation. And for many in the media this change from outright slaughter to passive barbarism offered some sort of perverted hope that Myanmar might actually uphold its promise of "democratic reform". Yet here we are over six months later and the original intent of Burma's sins is still being carried out without mercy as Rohingya die on a daily basis. 

In July The Guardian posted a piece in which they quoted an aid worker that described the Rohingya refugee camps as "open air prisons". This was back in July of 2012 when the fighting had only recently ended. This was just as humanitarian workers began to actually see just how horrid the conditions were amongst the Rohingya. Or at the very least the Rohingya they were allowed to see in the camps since many Rohingya were at that point blockaded in their villages. 

"We are worried that malnutrition rates already have and will continue to rise dramatically; if free and direct humanitarian access accompanied by guaranteed security is not granted with the shortest delay, there's no way they won't rise," said Tarik Kadir of Action Against Hunger. (July 2012)

Over the next six months the world did nothing to stop the campaign of ethnic cleansing that the Burmese have been carrying out. Instead the aid groups found it impossible to reach those in desperate need of food, water, medicine, and basic humanitarian aid. All the while governments around the world have increased trade with Burma while denying that any crisis is under way. 

Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, "Would expect a strong international response" to any attempt to deport the Rohingya."

After the October pogroms the Burmese government decided to begin the very deportations the Human Rights Watch organization predicted back in July. But unlike they expected, the world did nothing to stop the deportations. Instead countries like Thailand and Bangladesh have decided to profit off the horrific crimes that Burma has been perpetrating for over half a year now. While America and Europe continue to look for new ways to exploit Burma for its natural resources and economic contributions to the emerging markets of China and India.

Today nearly 1,000 Rohingya are stuck in a system of limbo created by Thailand as the government decides just how many if not all are deported back to Burma. Around 800 of these Rohingya were just recently "rescued" from human trafficking camps. And to add to this around 40 percent of the Rohingya found in Thailand's trafficking rings are below the age of 18. Yet despite facing death back home in Burma and facing slavery at the hands of traffickers, Thailand is in a hurry to send their "problems" back to Myanmar.

Rohingya often end up these days in the hands of human traffickers simply because desperation drives them to desperate actions. Using whatever money or materials they can bribe their captors with the Rohingya appear to enter slavery willingly. And at the same time it is blatantly obvious that nobody wants to be a slave. It is from that point of rationalization that makes us ask why?

Why would they risk breaking up their families and sending them out across southeast Asia? Why would anyone give up apparent freedom for a life of oppression?

The answers are almost as unfortunate as the trade off they are making is.

Rohingya have no freedoms in Burma from the moment they are born to the day that they die. A Rohingya person must be documented in multiple ways from birth yet are never admitted citizenship. Their parents must pay taxes upon them from birth while their children will have to pay taxes upon their death. Movement from village to village during life is taxed and restricted unless being dictated by Rakhine authorities.

In the long list of oppressive laws and restrictions put in place upon the Rohingya the part that preps the Rohingya for human trafficking the most happens to be the slavery they are raised with in Burma. It is a well known fact even outside Myanmar that the Rohingya are often used as slave labor when the Rakhine or military wants free labor. They are not fed nor do they receive any form of compensation during these times of forced labor. Their fields do not get worked, their boats don't go out to fish, and their children do not get fed during these times of slavery. It is this part of Burma's treatment of the Rohingya that prepares them for life as human cargo at the hands of human traffickers.

Thai officials have repeatedly been found cooperating with human traffickers and often doing the trafficking themselves. It is only in recent years that industry and the free market have begun to demand that the "free labor" portion of Thailand's economy be brought under control. Sadly these demands have only arrived out of the desire to gain larger portions of economic shares rather than out of concern for the Rohingya peoples' well-being.

The only good news coming out of Thailand is the fact that they have for now decided to hold the Rohingya till the UN can have a look at them. This does not mean that the Thai authorities will take the UN's suggestions seriously. It does not meant that the Rohingya will not be deported after the UN leaves. It does however mean that for now, at least, these Rohingya are spared the reprisals that await upon return to Myanmar.

For the rest of the world the question of how to stop human trafficking still remains. Last year MTV Exit put on a concert in Myanmar (counter productive since Myanmar is the heart of human trafficking in Southeast Asia). President Obama and other world leaders have talked endlessly about this subject. The United Nations has countless programs and branches dedicated to stopping this crime against humanity. Yet the sin of slavery still plagues us. And for the Rohingya it is a painful way out of Hell on earth.

Source Documents 
(Note not all sources used are listed)

CNN (December 7th, 2012)
(November 26, 2012)

The Guardian (July 13, 2012) (December 16th, 2012)

The Independent (October 30, 2012)

Phuketwan (December 26, 2012)

Aljazeera (January 11, 2013)

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