Momentum on Rohingya Rights

Aiding Rohingya refugees escaping genocide in Burma


The Rohingya people of Burma (Myanmar) have faced decades of abuse and violence at the hands of their own country’s military. This persecuted ethnic minority has been stripped of their citizenship, driven from their land, and interned in camps. In August 2017, the violence escalated to ethnic cleansing, when the military began a vicious campaign of burning villages and murdering women, men and children en masse. In the aftermath, more than 700,000 Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh—many on a weeks-long journey—carrying nothing but their children and a few belongings. Top UN officials say these atrocities bear the hallmarks of genocide.

The plight of the Rohingya people echoes the persecution and violence suffered by Jews throughout history, and AJWS is acting powerfully on our promise of “never again.”

Thanks to our generous donors, AJWS’s grantees are working around the clock to help refugees in camps in Bangladesh meet basic needs for food, shelter and water; recover from their profound traumas; and weather the devastation wrought by the monsoon rains. We are also supporting Rohingya and other human rights activists in Burma and around the world in their efforts to end the persecution and achieve justice.

AJWS has issued a rallying cry for the Rohingya people— pushing the U.S. government to take action and orchestrating a unified Jewish response.

"Thanks to AJWS, we are able to highlight the situation of the Rohingya to the world. If we did not have the support of AJWS, we would not be able to do all this.” —Tun Khin, Founder of AJWS grantee Burmese Rohingya Organization

Together with our partners and allies, we 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.

“The experience of joining AJWS in Washington to bring the plight of the Rohingya people to those in elected office is among the proudest moments in my 20 years as a rabbi. No one can honestly say now that the American Jewish community stood silent as our Rohingya brothers and sisters continued to bleed.” — Rabbi David Wirtschafter, Temple Adath Israel, Lexington, KY

Thanks to this advocacy, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the bill to the full Senate in February 2018. The House followed suit with a similar bill in May, which passed with overwhelming support and included language that AJWS helped shape calling for increased humanitarian aid, U.S. sanctions against Burma and a mechanism for accountability for crimes against the Rohingya. Though this legislation is currently stalled in the Senate, the U.S. government acted on several of our key asks. In August, they sanctioned several Burmese military officials and denied them entry visas into the U.S. And in September, the administration increased humanitarian aid to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

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Feature photo courtesy of MM Rahman/Alamy Stock Photo