10/12/2020, 12.32
MYANMAR
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Rakhine: Covid aggravates apartheid towards Rohingya Muslims

In the report "An open prison without end", Human Rights Watch denounces a climate of increasing abuse and persecution of the Muslim minority. 70% of children denied the right to education. Life in the camps similar to "continuous house arrest". For many it is impossible to hope for the future.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Covid-19 pandemic in Myanmar, considered the new hot front in Southeast Asia together with Malaysia, has once again highlighted the conditions of serious fragility of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the western state of Rakhine.

For years targeted by the Buddhist majority, the local community is still subject to threats, forced to live in conditions of overcrowding, denied aid, subject to travel restrictions that end up increasing the risk of transmission of the virus. This is the complaint in a recently published report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), according to which the Rohingya are also subject to extortion, harassment and hate speech by the authorities.

Entitled "An open prison without end", the study highlights how since 1982 and with an acceleration in 2012 by the military leadership, the Muslim minority has been increasingly the target of attacks and violence. An escalation that, according to some experts, would have resulted in a real policy of "genocide" - an accusation rejected by the democratic leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi - or of forced flight abroad in precarious humanitarian conditions.

HRW experts report that Rohingya children are denied the right to education. About 70% of the 120,000 school-age children in refugee camps in Rakhine State have no access to education. The restrictions on movement imposed by the pandemic have exacerbated the problem and most can only attend makeshift lessons set up by makeshift masters.

The denied right to education becomes an instrument to prolong the policy of segregation and marginalization for the Muslim minority, denying them "a future of self-confidence and dignity". This situation, the report continues, "ends up fuelling a vicious circle in which the conditions and services available worsen".

Many say that life in the camps is comparable to "continuous house arrest", in which "the right to freedom of movement, dignity, access to employment and education, certainty of access to food, water, health services is denied." According to some complaints, a system of apartheid similar to that seen in the past in South Africa against the black population is being applied to the Muslim minority; there would also be laws and governmental provisions to prevent the Rohingya from participating in the nation's political, social and economic life.

This set of factors has contributed to increasing morbidity and mortality, including Covid-19, in refugee camps, where there were already situations of malnutrition, diseases transmitted by polluted water and a much higher infant mortality rate than in Rakhine Buddhists.

The government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not want to improve the conditions of the Rohingya, concludes the HRW report, dampening the enthusiasm that arose in the aftermath of the victory at the polls in 2015. "How can we hope for the future?" points out Ali Khan, who lives in a refugee camp in Kyauktaw. "The local authorities could help us if they wanted to improve the situation, but they only end up denying us all rights."

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