At Graveney School we were lucky enough to contact and skype somebody with an experience of the Rohingya crisis. One of our teachers had travelled to Myanmar previously, but that was nothing to what her friend had experienced. Sophie had resided in the capital of the Rakhine state in Myanmar, Sittwe, from 2017 to 2018, helping to run Rohingya camps and supply them with what they needed. She also helped to set up schools and community centres in the camps.
Years before, the Myanmarese government had forced many of the Rohingya Muslims into camps where they lived, and still live in poverty and squalor. She said that the conditions were horrible, with up to 8 families of 5 living in one 13ft by 45ft dingy bamboo and corrugated iron shacks. Many barely lied under cover, in self-constructed tents and huts, made out of any bamboo, plastic or fabric they could find. When schools and community centres were built, she could not use any permenant building materials, which made them liable to collapse.
Many problems threaten this fragile society. One such dilemma is the natural disasters. When the government of Myanmar allocated land for the building of camps, they chose the most unwanted land: very low lying; impossible to cultivate; very prone to storms and cyclones. This clashed with the fact that they had passed a law that no permanent buildings could be build on the land as they said that the camps were (apparently) not permanent. This meant that whenever a storm it, extensive damage would be done to the camps, with many buildings collapsing and leaving people without shelter or protection. She said that she had just built a great community centre, and even managed to acquire solar panels to power lights inside so that children could study or read at night if they wanted to, when a huge cyclone hit, completely destroying it.
According to her, the children in the camps had been very enthusiastic about going to school, realising that education is the key to better life. However, due to the lack of food and fresh water, only half-days are taught, because often it is hard to learn on an empty stomach and without water. Every month, each family was given a ration of rice, lentils, salt, cooking oil and a some sugar. This is definitely not sufficient amounts of food for large families, and many had members of the family which were ill, needing more nourishment for to get better.
She also told us that the crisis is not in these camps, but in towns where the Rohingya are settled, where they own the land. They have been burning the camps instead of just driving the inhabitants out, to take advantage of a very convenient law (the military junta created it so that they could do just this). The law states that if somebody's property is burned or destroyed because of fire, it becomes the government's property once again. This means that slowly, the government is regaining all of the Rohingya's land, which belonged to them, so that if they are ever returned to Myanmar, they will have nowhere to live, so will have to leave the country once more.
She spoke to us about a problem in this crisis which cannot be solved. Many of the civilian buddhists in Myanmar due to fake news supplied via facebook. Many years ago, facebook signed a contract saying that all users in Myanmar did not have to pay for facebook, or have data or a phone contract to use it. This means that, as many people in Myanmar are very poor, their main source of news is this social media site. Terrorists and anti-Rohingya activists post fake news about them, and, because they have nowhere else to find things out from, the people believe the posts. This has turned most of the population of Myanmar against the refugees, and there is nothing that the UN or anybody else can do.
Despite this incredibly interesting conversation we had, there were still many burning questions we were desperate to ask:
Can the Rohingya ever get out of the camps?
Is there a solution to the crisis?
Did she feel awkward working in the camps around such poverty?
Will the Rohingya ever be free to have normal lives?
Can the propaganda on facebook ever be stopped?
How do the Rohingya feel about being stuck in the camps in Myanmar?
Was the camp guarded?
Why weren't the Rohingya allowed out of the camps?
Why do the Myanmarese government want to keep the Rohingya Muslims in camps like prisons?
Postscript: After half-term, Burnet News Club at Graveney will be holding a charity fundraiser and will, as a follow-upto this topic, donate the proceeds to a Rohingya crisis appeal.