A Thai attendee at a recent Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative event at the White House asked President Obama the following question: “If you were a Rohinya, which country would you prefer to live in, and why?”
Now, the question drew snickers, because it’s a bit odd to ask the world’s most powerful man what he would do if he were a member of one of the world’s most persecuted peoples.
But it was actually an effective query because it forced him to personalize the question. Part of his answer: I think I’d like to live in the country where I was born.
Since early May, more than 4,600 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been brought ashore from Southeast Asian waters. Several thousand more are believed to still be at sea after human smugglers abandoned their boats amid a regional crackdown.
Some are Bangladeshis who left their impoverished homeland in hope of finding jobs abroad. But many are Rohingya Muslims who have fled persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which has denied them basic rights, including citizenship, and confined more than 100,000 to camps. There are more than one million Rohingya living in the country formerly known as Burma.
You can also click on the Rohingya tag to see posts I’ve written about them dating back to 2009.
(Formatting note: This link to the video should take you to the 41:58 mark in the video, when President Obama was asked the question. The embedded video starts from the beginning of the event.)