President Obama, ‘If You Were a Rohingya…”

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.

For more on the plight of the Rohingya, here’s a recent story providing the context:

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.)


Anasuya’s New Documentary on Myanmar’s Rohingya People

I’m proud to share a documentary produced by Anasuya Sanyal — aka my amazing wife — that recently aired on Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia.

It’s about the struggles faced by the Rohingya people of Myanmar and a controversial government program designed to offer them citizenship.

The show is called “Between Two Worlds,” and is embedded above and on the Channel NewsAsia site here.


BBC: Thai Officials Reportedly Sold Rohingya Refugees to Human Traffickers

2013 01 22 rohingya bbc

Here’s the BBC’s video report and text piece.

Parts of the story seem to have first appeared in Phuket Wan last week.

Here’s a Bangkok Post story.

Reuters and the AP also have stories.

And Saksith Saiyasombut has a post at Asian Correspondent summarizing the news.

(Image: BBC.)


Rohingya on CNN’s “World’s Untold Stories”

CNN will air an episode beginning tonight (Tues., Feb. 24) of “World’s Untold Stories” dedicated to the Rohingya abuse issue. From

Myanmar’s Rohingya Minority

They are an impoverished and persecuted minority living in a remote part of one of the world’s most repressive nations. And they are risking their lives to leave.

Next week’s ‘WORLD’S UNTOLD STORIES’ tracks the journey of Rohingya refugees, fleeing western Myanmar where they are denied citizenship, freedom of movement, property rights, are harassed and forced into labor.

But while members of this Muslim minority are choosing to escape by sea, they are just as unwelcome in the places they wash up; Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Check out the CNN link above for more info on the episode.

Hong Kong air times are as follows (subtract an hour for Bangkok time):

February 24th at 2130
February 25th at 0230
February 28th at 2130
March 1st at 0130/ 1130/ 1430
March 2nd at 0730


Angelina Jolie: Thailand should aid Rohingya refugees

AP: “Jolie asks Thailand to help Burmese refugees

Angelina Jolie has called on Thailand’s government to give more freedom to tens of thousands of Burmese refugees it has kept locked inside camps for up to 20 years.

The Academy Award-winning actress and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Refugee Agency visited Thailand’s Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee center Wednesday.

“I was saddened to meet a 21-year-old woman who was born in a refugee camp, who has never even been out of the camp and is now raising her own child in a camp,” Jolie was quoted as saying by UNHCR in a statement released Thursday.

She asked Thai authorities to give around 110,000 refugees in northern Thailand greater freedom to move around and seek higher education, because they are unlikely to be welcomed back anytime soon to Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Bloomberg: “Angelina Jolie, UN Envoy, Asks Thailand to Aid Myanmar Refugees

Angelina Jolie, a United Nations goodwill ambassador, asked Thailand to accept Muslim migrants fleeing Myanmar’s military authorities during a visit to refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Thailand is facing an international outcry over its treatment of the minority Muslim Rohingya group, after CNN published a photo showing armed forces towing refugee boats away from the shore on Jan. 26. Five of six boats towed in late December sank, killing several hundred people, CNN reported.

Jolie issued the plea during a visit yesterday to camps in northern Thailand that house 111,000 mostly ethnic Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

There’s also an accompanying article on the UN Web site.