Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter‚ Ela‚ has added her voice to calls for peace in of Myanmar.
Newly arrived Rohingya refugees sit inside a shelter at the Kutupalang registered refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Photo: Reuters)
In a letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi‚ Myanmar’s state counsellor‚ Gandhi urged her to use her power and influence to ensure that the government of Myanmar engages with the people of Rakhine state in a humane and compassionate manner in order to avoid further attacks or reprisals which will only turn people into enemies.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since violence flared in August.
Now‚ Suu Kyi who was under house arrest by the Burmese government for almost 15 years for her campaign to bring democracy to the country‚ has come under fire for silence on the treatment of Rohingya refugees.
According to a BBC report‚ the violence began in August when the Rohingya militants attacked police posts in northern Rakhine‚ killing 12 security personnel.
Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar since then say the military responded with a brutal campaign‚ burning villages and attacking civilians in a bid to drive them out. The Rohingya‚ a stateless mostly Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Rakhine‚ have long experienced persecution in Myanmar‚ which says they are illegal immigrants.
Last week Archbishop Desmond Tutu broke his “vow of silence” when he wrote to his “dearly beloved younger sister” Suu Kyi on the plight of the Muslim minority in Myanmar. In his letter he wrote about his “profound sadness” at the deadly situation playing out in the Rakhine state. He called on Suu Kyi to be courageous and resilient again to guide her people back to the path of righteousness.
Gandhi said she believes Suu Kyi‚ a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for Reconciliation and Peace in 2009‚ has a special place in the hearts of many.
About 146,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar after insurgent attacks on security forces on 25 August provoked a military counter-offensive, a UN source said on 6 September.
This brings the total number of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since October to 233,000. The earlier surge occurred when Rohingya insurgents staged similar but smaller attacks on security posts.
This comes on the heels of the Indian government announcing that 40,000 Rohingya refugees would be deported. A plea against this decision made by two Rohingya asylum seekers in Delhi is being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
“The numbers are very worrying. They are going up very quickly,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Vivian Tan.
The agency was pleading for assistance, saying it needed more land so it could set up new camps to accommodate refugees who were arriving hungry, traumatised, and in need of medical assistance.
“Most have walked for days from their villages – hiding in jungles, crossing mountains and rivers with what they could salvage from their homes,” the agency said in a statement.
“An unknown number could still be stranded at the border,” it said.
In Bangladesh, aid agencies said there was an urgent need for emergency shelters and medical aid as more refugees arrive.
The UNHCR’s new refugee estimate was the result of aid workers conducting new, more accurate counts that revised Monday’s estimate up from 87,000, Tan said.
Roughly 1 million Rohingya were believed to have been in Myanmar previously, though estimates vary.
Tens of thousands of new refugees have been taken in at established camps that have been housing Rohingya since the 1990s, but those camps have reached “breaking point,” the UN refugee agency said. Thousands of others were now sheltering under emergency tents, in makeshift camps or out in the open wherever they found space.