The word genocide begs a violent connotation. It fills my mind with images of rage and unrelenting noise. It kills with machetes and fire. But not all genocides move with the quick pace of a beating heart. Some are slow and calculated. Some kill with the mere denial of food and healthcare. All of them deliberate and horrific.
The Rohingya humanitarian crisis is causing suffering on a catastrophic scale. The number of Rohingya people fleeing violence in Myanmar has made this the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, and the concentration of refugees in Cox’s Bazar is now amongst the densest in the world. Myanmar is confining The Rohingya people who remain to their own camps, afraid to run, but quickly running out of life-saving resources and access to medical care. Escape might mean death, but staying could offer the same result.
The same is true for those who have fled. Myanmar militia has lined the borders with landmines to keep the Rohingya people from returning to their home country. The Bangladesh camps serve as a cage. Myanmar doesn’t want them and Bangladesh doesn’t want them. They’re living in a constant state of fear.
Humanitarian crisis meets natural disaster
As if this crisis wasn’t enough, Bangladesh is approaching their annual monsoon season. The camps in Cox’s Bazar are right in the middle of a flood zone. The rain will wash away temporary housing in the camps. The extreme highs and lows in the camp’s terrain invite uncontrollable waves of water to overcome the shelters. There are landslide dangers at every turn and the risk of waterborne illness is rampant. According to a report from Reuters, 100,000 people are in danger due to the landslides and flooding.
We’ve seen the effects of extreme flooding in Bangladesh. Just last year, we responded to major flooding that victimized more than 24 million people.
We’ve been here before.
I can’t help but see the parallels to the Rwandan genocide. As we approach the 24th anniversary of the mass killings that lasted over 90 days, I hope that we can learn from where we’ve been. Before the mass killings began on April 7, 1994, UN peacekeeper Roméo Dallaire was pleading to the world. He believed that we could stop the genocide from progressing. The leaders of the world turned their collective heads and Rwanda experienced an event that will forever change its history.
During his 1995 speech, then-President Bill Clinton acknowledged his own lack of response and publically sought forgiveness from the Rwandan people.
“The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy, as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become a safe haven for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide. We cannot change the past. But we can and must do everything in our power to help you build a future without fear, and full of hope…So let us challenge ourselves to build a world in which no branch of humanity, because of national, racial, ethnic, or religious origin, is again threatened with destruction because of those characteristics, of which people should rightly be proud. Let us work together as a community of civilized nations to strengthen our ability to prevent and, if necessary, to stop genocide.”
The battle cry was ‘never again’ and yet here we are again.
Genocide has always been and always will be about the perception of scarcity and deeming one group as subhuman, therefore justifying their eradication without moral and ethical repercussions. It’s our job to fight against these dangerous perceptions and restore the dignity and the humanity of all people.
Many organizations, Food for the Hungry included, are working on both sides of the border, ready and willing to offer humanitarian aid. We’ve been serving the people of Bangladesh since the genesis of our organization. We’ve helped communities prepare for intense flooding and recover afterward. We have experience in stopping the spread of cholera. Our partnerships in the camps are already saving lives and restoring dignity.
However, the scale of that aid needs to grow exponentially. Food for the Hungry has people mobilized and we have funding. We have resources to begin responding in a way that would change the tide on this crisis. But the permissions aren’t there and the red tape for aid organizations is monumental. Aid workers are being jailed over permits. New laws are being written regularly, acting as an obstacle to progress for a people in dire need. Collectively the world is watching, claiming ignorance.
If we don’t enact change soon, we’ll be begging for forgiveness from yet another stain on humanity’s history.
We can’t let this happen again. Not on our watch, not in our lifetime. We need the world to pay attention and for humanity to stand up and say “no.”