The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
World Refugee Day — A Day to Take Action
By on June 20, 2019
Today is World Refugee Day, a day in which we honor refugees around the world. The UNHCR has stated that more than 70.8 million people around the world were forced to flee their homes in 2018. Standing with those forced from their homes is at the heart of UUSC’s work, from climate-forced displacement, to justice for Central American migrants fleeing to the United States, to responding to the Syrian refugee crisis. But today, I want to highlight one group of refugees, the Rohingya from Burma (Myanmar).
Barely two years ago, after decades of persecution, the Burmese military launched a genocidal campaign of violence to drive over 700,000 Rohingya people from their homes in Northern Rakhine state, across the Naf river to Bangladesh. The camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh are now hosting almost one million Rohingya refugees from this violent campaign and previous conflict.
The violent tactics of the military, although extreme, were familiar to many ethnic nationalities in Burma, including the Karen, the Kachin, and the Shan, who have been forced from their homes in waves of conflict dating back over 70 years. Hundreds of thousands now reside in internally displaced people camps in Burma. There were warnings that if the international community did not take action against the persecution of the Rohingya, as the United Nations itself has acknowledged it failed to do, the military would be emboldened to escalate its oppression of different ethnic minorities as part of its divide-and-rule strategy. Indeed, the Rakhine Buddhists are now engaged in their own conflict with the Burmese military, where new crimes are taking place.
Yet there is hope. Rohingya people are organizing themselves to provide education, conduct peacebuilding, and advocate for their community before international agencies. Internally displaced people are continuing to organize and demand their rights. UUSC partners are working to provide education in the Cox’s Bazaar camps, build coalitions, and represent their communities on the international and domestic stage. The movement for accountability and justice in Burma continues to advance, with the establishment of the international investigative mechanism to preserve evidence for future prosecutions, and the International Criminal Court’s commencement of a preliminary examination of the forced deportation of the Rohingya.
On World Refugee Day, we must not only honor this work, but take action to both assist refugees, and target the causes of their displacement. Legislation was recently reintroduced in the House and Senate that would help promote accountability for genocide and other human rights violations in Burma, while providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees. Members of Congress need to hear from us once more that we support this critical legislation.
UUSC was founded in 1940 by Martha and Waitstill Sharp, two American Unitarian Universalists, who traveled to Europe at great personal risk to help refugees escape genocide. We take inspiration from them, and our grassroots partners, in acting in solidarity with refugees fleeing today’s genocide.
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!
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