Leading Jewish Human Rights Group Urges President Obama to Protect Refugees from Burma

The U.S. must use all means available to rescue the Rohingya people, a persecuted religious and ethnic minority

New York, NY – American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, is urging President Barack Obama to use all means available to rescue the 6,000-plus members of the Rohingya community who are fleeing persecution, violence and ethnic cleansing in Burma and are languishing on overcrowded and unsafe boats in the Andaman Sea. They are in desperate need of food, water, basic supplies, and a temporary place to call home. In the past day, the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to welcome a limited number of Rohingya refugees for a limited period of time in their countries, while Thailand continues to deny entry to Rohingya refugees.

“American Jews and other supporters of human rights throughout the world refuse to remain silent while the lives of thousands of refugees — men, women, and children — hang in the balance,” said Shari Turitz, AJWS’s Vice President for International Programs. “The Burmese government’s actions constitute ethnic cleansing and we must speak out and act before it escalates to genocide. We are painfully aware of how the silence of too many allowed the Jews of Europe to become the targets of state-sanctioned hate and genocide, and we cannot allow this to happen to others today,” added Turitz.

AJWS urges President Obama to take immediate action to provide protection, aid and refuge to this persecuted community by:

  • Implore Thailand to allow boats to land on its shores, as Indonesia and Malaysia have done. Urge all three countries to provide aid to refugees and conduct search and rescue operations to save people unable to make it to land.
  • Offer to help launch, assist, and coordinate an immediate search and rescue operation that fully utilizes U.S. assets to save imperiled lives.
  • Address the source of this crisis and urge the end of systematic abuse and persecution of the Rohingya by the Burmese government.

Background on the Rohingya Muslims of Burma

An estimated 130,000 Rohingya people have fled Burma by boat since 2012, in the face of systematic attacks on the community. Perpetrators have not been held accountable. Instead, the Burmese government has confined more than 140,000 Rohingya people in internment camps with deplorable living conditions.

The persecution of Rohingya Muslims began decades earlier with spates of violence that drove thousands to flee to Bangladesh and the passage of the 1982 Citizenship Law, which stripped nearly one million Rohingya people of their citizenship. The Rohingya face restrictions on marriage and childbirth, freedom of movement, employment, and access to education.

Government-supported propaganda has cultivated fear and hatred toward the Rohingya and has sown distrust and divisions among Burma’s diverse ethnic and religious communities. For decades mass atrocities, including rape and targeting of civilians, have also been perpetrated by the Burmese government against other ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

In a state visit to Burma in 2014, President Obama praised the Burmese government for advancing human rights. But these advances have not yet reached many of Burma’s people, including the Rohingya.

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David L. Marcus
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