The Rohingya people are an ethnic minority group from the Rakhine State of Burma. They have a unique language and culture, and while they live in a predominantly Buddhist country, the majority of Rohingya people are Muslim.
The Rohingya people have lived in Burma for centuries, yet they are reviled as outsiders and accused of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In 1982, the Burmese began to strip Rohingya residents of their citizenship. Over the years, there have been many waves of violence where the military and the government destroyed Rohingya communities and denied them freedom of movement in the country they call home.
The latest and most horrific round of violence started on August 25, 2017, when the Burmese military intensified its anti-Rohingya campaign. Soldiers have burned entire Rohingya villages to the ground, indiscriminately massacred Rohingya men, women, and children, and forced an estimated 720,000 people to flee on foot or by boat to refugee camps in Bangladesh, usually a trek of several weeks from their burned villages.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently declared that the current attacks on the Rohingya people constitute “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”
When the crisis began in 2017, AJWS began offering immediate and long-term humanitarian aid—including food and water—to refugees who fled across the border into Bangladesh. Today, our partners in Bangladesh are working to improve conditions in these camps, training healthcare volunteers to spread awareness of communicable diseases and the importance of good hygiene; supporting children’s education; prioritizing cash assistance, empowering Rohingya refugees to determine and address their individual needs; and improving the safety and security of women and girls living in the camps.
Together with our partners and allies, AJWS launched the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network, a diverse coalition of leaders from across the Jewish community. We mobilized 72 American Jewish organizations and 248 rabbis and communal leaders to petition the Senate to pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2018, a bill calling for immediate U.S. government intervention — a campaign that successfully helped push Congress to sanction several Burmese military officials and increase humanitarian aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
AJWS, with the entire JRJN, continues to work to promote legislation to bring justice to the Rohingya people, ensure their safety and hold accountable the military officials responsible for unspeakable crimes against humanity.
Currently, the members of JRJN are working to deepen the awareness of this crisis among American Jews at large, as well as pressuring Congress to pass the upcoming Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019. This bill would mandate targeted sanctions against the Burmese military and military-owned businesses; fund programs to aid refugees; begin to hold accountable those responsible for crimes committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities; and call for the restoration of Burmese citizenship for the Rohingya while taking input for the Rohingya community.
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We will stay the course to ensure that the Rohingya people survive this onslaught of violence and are able to live with dignity and human rights.
Why We Care
As an ethnic minority living among majority cultures over many centuries, Jews have experienced waves of persecution. In Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, Jews have suffered government-sanctioned hate and been stripped of their citizenship rights. They have also been violently attacked and endured threats of annihilation. Our history of oppression demands that we stand today to ensure that “never again” means “never again” for the Rohingya people and other persecuted minorities.
About American Jewish World Service’s work in Burma
For more than 15 years, AJWS has supported the human rights of ethnic minorities in Burma, including the Rohingya people. AJWS provides direct financial support to more than 30 human rights organizations in Burma that have been working to advance the rights of minority ethnic groups and to create a truly pluralistic and democratic society. Please read more about our work in Burma here. We believe that only in a democratic and pluralistic Burma will the Rohingya people be able to survive and thrive.