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Part 7 – The Rohingya Diary with Yvonne Ridley

Part  7 – The Rohingya Diary with Yvonne Ridley
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 Part 7 – Make 2018 count

By Yvonne Ridley

I am home now from Cox’s Bizar and appreciate my surrounds like never before. I am sitting here in the secure knowledge that no one is going to threaten or drive me and my family from our home. It makes me feel warm and safe but it also makes me feel sad because it is a feeling that is denied to the Rohingya people.

There’s food in the fridge and shops selling more supplies are within easy reach of my front door, which is more than can be said for many Syrian’s under siege. No one is going to stop me from jumping in my car and driving to the supermarket or ambush and bomb me on the way. I don’t have to run any death-defying gauntlet to put bread on the table.

As I open the fridge door the light comes on and my food is fresh and cold. That is something our brothers and sisters in Gaza don’t experience as Israel plays fast and loose with its cruel games switching power on and off to Palestinians. Motivated by spite and malice, it’s hard to understand how so much hate to others can give any source of comfort to the persecutors.

I will go to bed tonight knowing that I will not be bombed or anyone will enter my home to loot, rape or murder. I will sleep well and that and cannot be said in places like Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and other conflict zones around the world.

We, and I include my dear brothers and sisters in South Africa, are blessed that we do not live under the threat of famine, starvation, war, kidnap and murder.

Now that 2018 is upon us not only should we be counting our blessings but we should be looking at those who are not so lucky and we should be asking ourselves what we can do to alleviate the burden of others. We have a clean year in our diaries ahead of us and each day offers the chance or opportunity to do some good deed.

There are those of us who are blessed with money who can donate generously to help charities like Salaam Foundation use their talents and humanitarian aid to the full. Not all of us have the time to drop everything and travel overseas to the world’s troublespots to help and, quite frankly, with the best will in the world there are only certain skills that are useful in such situations.

I was blessed to spend time with three South African lawyers who have their own solution to dealing with the war criminals in Myanmar who’ve inflicted crimes against humanity on the Rohingya people. May God bless Shabnam Mayet, Tasneem Fredericks and Shaida Mahomed for their amazing work for the little NGO Protect the Rohingya. They used their spare time and their professional skills to offer hope to the Rohingya.

And God bless the doctors from all over the world that I met in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar who also used their skills to bring more hope and comfort to these beleaguered people.

We can’t all be lawyers and doctors, but we are all still very useful and can do something to help and make things happen for the better and I hope that 2018 will be the year of resourcefulness for all of us. Those who have special skills should try and use them to help others; those of us who have the time could utilise it to do sponsored walks, fundraising and organising events.

Never underestimate your own capabilities whether it’s inspiring others, offering support and encouragement or raising awareness through the social media networks.

There is no reason why any one of us, young or old, should not contribute towards helping others who are not as lucky as ourselves.  If we don’t have skills maybe we’ve got time and if we don’t have time maybe there’s some money that can be used to do good. And if you have nothing to offer, absolutely nothing, then never forget the gift of prayer … your prayer could be more powerful than anything else.

All that I ask is that asyou say goodbye to 2017 resolve to do something positive and good and charitable for 2018. You have 365 pages to be written – please make everything you do count.

 

Part 6 – Don’t Let Rohingya become another Nakba

By Yvonne Ridley

The international community must act swiftly on the Rohingya crisis or the world will create another Palestine. That was the stark warning a delegation including an Arab charity and Algerian politicians relayed to the Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament this week.

The Bangladesh parliament.
The Bangladesh parliament

On reaching Dhaka and with the dust of Cox’s Bazar refugee camps still on our boots, we went along to the Parliament in the Bangladesh capital for our high-powered meeting.

Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, the Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament, sat and listened as Palestinian Mamdooh Kamal Ali Badawi, Chairman of International Relief organisation (IRO) and Algerian MP, Youcef Adjissa who is also a member of the Parliamentary Union of OIC Member States (PUOIC) expressed their fears.

I was wearing my hat as the European Muslim League’s General Secretary and a team member of the all-women delegation which spent a harrowing week in the refugee camps taking sworn statements from victims of war crimes. The remaining team members included South African lawyers Shabnam Mayet, Tasneem Fredericks and Shaida Mahamod left for home on Christmas Day carrying the affidavits which can be used in courts of law to hold war criminals to account for the crimes under international jurisdiction.

IRO and Salaam Foundation were among the organisations who funded this unique project which can be used and added to by other legal teams around the world. IRO was the first Arab charity on the ground in Cox’s Bazar when tens of thousands of refugees fled into neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the ethnic cleansing and genocide at the hands of the military in Myanmar. “What I saw reminded me of Palestine and there are many parallels,” said Badawi who now has German citizenship. IMG-20171226-WA0003

“At least those in the camps at Cox’s Bazar are safe from continued persecution unlike Palestinian refugees who are still being brutalised and oppressed today. However, unless the international community acts swiftly the situation could turn in to another intractable situation which has been allowed to happen to Palestinians.”

Algerian MP Youcef Adjissa from Constantine agreed. He said during the meeting with Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury: “I am afraid if this issue with Rohingya people is not resolved soon it will turn into a crisis like Palestine. The world must act quickly to avoid this from happening.

“Today we see Palestinians scattered around the world as well as in the refugee camps in the Middle East because the world did not react to the nakba. This must not be allowed to happen for the Rohingya people,” added the MP who was setting up a cross party Parliamentary friendship committee with the Bangladeshi Parliament.

Chaudhury expressed an interest in the legal project of which I had been an active member. We had taken sworn affidavits from refugees who had witnessed wholesale slaughter, rape and brutality at the hands of the Myanmar military as they fled their villages near the border with Bangladesh.

The work was painful because of the excruciating detail that had to be collected. All of us found it harrowing and were impressed by the clarity and dignified nature of the Rohingya people.

SA lawyers, Shabnam Mayet,
SA lawyers, Shabnam Mayet, Shaida Mahomad and Tasneem Fredericks

 

The groundwork we have established will help form the basis of legal action anywhere in the world against those who committed war crimes against the Rohingya people. Using international jurisdiction these statements should be accepted by any court interested in delivering justice to the Rohingya people.

As we’ve heard today in the Speaker’s Office, the world must act quickly to stop this escalating out of control. There are more than a million Rohingya refugees from this and previous crisis situation. It can not continue and the war criminals in Myanmar must be held to account.

 

 

 

 

Part 5 – Turkey dinners served with justice

By Yvonne Ridley

While I don’t begrudge anyone their turkey dinner over their festive period,  I do ask one thing: Whoever you are and however you pray I want you to spend just a little time out thinking about the Rohingya people stuck in refugee camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Around 670,000 fled their homes in Myanmar to escape the genocidal behaviour of the military supported by violent groups of local Buddhists and police in the Rakhine state. Mass murder, rape and looting were just some of the war crimes carried out.

The good news is the first brick has been laid in the foundations which will see the perpetrators face justice and that is largely due to the efforts of the South African campaign group Protect the Rohingya, set up by Johannesburg lawyer, Shabnam Mayet. She and her all-women team of Shaida Mahomed and Tasneem Fredricks started their journey back home already.

IMG-20171224-WA0021

In their possession they have numerous bundles of testimony and affidavits which have been formally legalised to be used in a court of law and, under international jurisdiction, this means most courts of law around the world where there is universal condemnation for the ethnic cleansing the Myanmar regime has carried out.

And there’s more good news for all the South Africans reading this because the legal eagles aren’t the only ones to bring comfort and help to the Rohingya refugees. While out in Cox’s Bizar I bumped in to Zakira Hayat from Lichtenburg who arrived with a team of all-women doctors also from South Africa. They are working with Physicians Across Continents and as you will see from her video she is having to face some very real, emotional challenges.

We talked about the psychological problems the Rohingya refugees are trying to grapple with but how can you put a sticking plaster on someone’s traumatised mind? She and her colleagues will spend the next few days working with an international team of physicians and surgeons from Palestine, Jordan, Saudi and, of course South Africa. If you want to find out more check out Zakira’s Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/zakira.hayat.5?hc_ref=ARTlW48cV33kQcrrS0G-CeMwL1c9-hpN74u9D7cy0bWOoH8W7fE8xixNRHcZyvFHhj8&pnref=story

And now for some bad news. Despite the international outrage and charges of ethnic cleansing, the Myanmar regime did pledge that hundreds of thousands of refugees could start their journey home within weeks. The reality is this is a tissue of lies – even if the Rohingya did return under the conditions set out by the regime the whole process could take around 20 years.

These are weasel words and there’s no real sign of good will. On top of that, not a single refugee I’ve met and interviewed wants to return unless their safety, human rights and status are all guaranteed giving them freedom of movement and equality on a par with all Myanmar citizens.

Furthermore, they told me they want the Rohingya name recognised, but that’s hardly likely to happen when The Pope is too afraid to even mention these people by name for fear of offending the regime! So it looks as though their homes will remain in the sprawling refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.

One after another told me – and anyone else who would listen – that they simply don’t trust the nationalist-led government and feel widely hated and despised by the rest of the population.

So what is to be done? The reaction from people in Bangladesh varies widely from those who believe the Rohingya are not their problem to those who believe that as human beings the refugees deserve all the help the state can give. It’s a problem which has been thrust upon Sheikh Hasina, the leader of Bangladesh and she too has come in for some criticism although some say she’s in a no-win situation.

My understanding is that the Turkish government wants to build around 125,000 brick homes on a huge chunk of land at the border but in a country where millions are scraping by and living in their own ghettos, such a move could inflame the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. The Turkish Prime Minister did visit the region earlier this week to see what developments had been made and left feeling frustrated at what some see as a lack of progress.

One solution would be for international pressure to secure a sizeable part of Myanmar territory that largely belonged to the refugees anyway and let the homes be built there where the people could live in peace and dignity.

But while all this international wrangling continues the fight for justice has started and there’s no better time than now to announce that a new journey has begun for the Rohingya people … and that is the road to justice. The brutal regime in Myanmar might think it has been successful in its ethnic cleansing operation but that dossier lawyer Shabnam Mayet is bringing back to South Africa could change history.

As your late, great president Nelson Mandela once said: “In the end we must remember that no amount of rules or their enforcement will enforce those who struggle with justice on their side”. Today, thanks to some determined South African lawyers who I’ve had the honour of working with, justice is on the side of the Rohingya people.

That in itself has been a global team effort. Salaam Foundation together the Media Review Network and the German-based International Relief Organisation have helped fund and support Protect the Rohingya set up the legal campaign for justice and the work continues.

So while you’re reflecting on the season of festivities and you would like to support the Rohingya refugee campaign you can by donating to the Salaam Foundation.

Account: Salaam Foundation
Bank: First National Bank
Account no: 62669147665
Branch: 250737

Swift Code: FRINZAJJ

Reference: ROH Legal

 

Part 4 – Rohingya tragedy overshadows the season of goodwill

By Yvonne Ridley | 24 December 2017

It is Christmas Eve and although Bangladesh is largely a Muslim country there’s a sparkling tinsel-decorated tree sitting in the hotel lobby reminding guests this is the season of goodwill and peace.

The sight of the Christmas tree is almost surreal because this is Cox’s Bazar and behind the idyllic beaches and coconut palms is one of the world’s biggest unfolding humanitarian disasters.

Goodwill has certainly been in short supply for the Rohingya people and if misery, hardship and persecution was a competitive sport then they would be in pole position because they are at the heart of the world’s fastest-growing crisis, with thousands still crossing the border from Myanmar each day.

We are now in to Day Three as South African lawyers working for a campaign group, Protect the Rohingya, continue to take statements, eye-witness accounts and affidavits from the refugees who sit and wait patiently to have their stories told.

I can tell you not one account has been rejected so far. Every single gut-wrenching, heart-breaking story adds to the mounting evidence against the Myanmar military and now is the time for all good men and women to come together and demand justice for these people.

Yesterday I told you the story of 11-year-old Mohammed Shofique, orphaned as the military set about executing his parents and siblings.

Today I want to tell you about Rowheema Khatu. She’s 60-years-old and lives in Camp Moduchara with her two grandsons who were orphaned some years ago when illness took their father.

However, with the love and support of their grandmother and 80-year-old grandfather Bassa Meya, the youngsters were thriving in their four-roomed family home in Chilaly Village, Rathidaung city.

Until Myanmar’s military paid a visit early one Sunday in September the family’s life was simple, peaceful and uncomplicated. They lived off the land and fished to put food on the table.

Muhamad Sharif, aged 12 and his younger brother Dil Khayas, aged eight, had spent the night sleeping in the same room as their doting grandparents. Rumours were rife that the military, aided by local Buddhists were targeting Rohingya Muslims and so the family kept close to each other.

The boys were woken suddenly by their grandparents and they soon realised why. Their village was surrounded and under attack. The sporadic rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire ripped through the air and was soon followed by the crackling sound of fire as homes were set alight and torched.

The four crept out of their front door and began running towards some trees for shelter. The boys, being more nimble than their elders escaped into nearby bushes followed by their grandmother but as Rowheema looked back she saw her husband struggling. He was not a fit man and how many 80-year-olds can sprint away from danger even when their lives depend on it?

Bassa struggled to escape and was soon captured by his tormentors. Helpless Rowheema watched from a safe distance as they dragged her frail husband towards their family home which, by now, was ablaze.

“He was too weak to run away,” she said in an almost resigned, apologetic manner. I wanted her to get angry. I wanted her to scream, shout, vent outrage, do something … anything. If she had grabbed me and shook me I would have understood but the trademark, quiet dignity and acceptance of Rohingya people is extraordinary, almost as amazing as their capacity to endure and survive the most hideous, evil attack on their very existence.

And so she continued recounting her story quietly and without the sort of emotion and hysteria which would have wracked most of us. “I don’t know how many soldiers held him, there were so many. They carried him back to our home and lifted him into the air, throwing him into the flames. He was crying for help,” she added, taking in a deep breath.

By now her thoughts had turned to the living and as she took shelter in the forest she found her grandson Muhammad Sharif but the other one was missing. It took two days before they were all reunited.

To her horror she discovered the boys had also watched from a distance as the soldiers caught their grandfather and threw him alive into the blazing inferno that once was their home. When she felt it was safe, she returned but found just ashes: “There was no body to bury. There was nothing to salvage, everything had gone,” she said.

A week later they were in the sprawling refugee camp where just about everyone has a story to tell, an atrocity they’ve witnessed or a war crime they’ve seen. Their testimonies are vital and more lawyers are needed to join forces against the brutal Myanmar regime.

The crimes against the Rohingya people must run into tens of thousands. There are around 670,000 of the Muslim minority group who’ve now been ethnically cleansed from the Rakhine State of Myanmar. They are now one of the largest stateless populations in the world who’ve endured decades of discrimination and repression under successive Burmese governments.

If the international community had come together and prosecuted the crimes against humanity carried out on these people when the waves of violence were launched back in 2012 then today’s generals might not have had the same appetite for mass slaughter if they thought they’d end up being charged.

Inaction by the United Nations and allies of the brutal military junta have served only to embolden the regime.

Protect the Rohingya, led by international human rights lawyer Shabnam Mayet, is being funded to set up the groundwork for justice. She hopes a global network of lawyers will join forces and come together to deliver some form of justice for the people in the absence of UN or government action.

If you are a lawyer and want to help please contact Shabnam at shabzym@gmail.com and if you want to help fund the initiative and help Rohingya people please donate to:

Account: Salaam Foundation
Bank: First National Bank
Account no: 62669147665
Branch: 250737

Swift Code: FRINZAJJ

Reference: ROH Legalp

* Tomorrow Yvonne Ridley’s Diary will give an insight to Christmas Day in the fastest growing refugee camp in the world.

 

 

Part 3 – The eyes of a child | 23 December 2017

By Yvonne Ridley

There is a saying that the eyes are the mirror of the soul and it can be traced back to the Roman politician and lawyer Cicero.

Today I was reminded of that proverb as 11-year-old Mohammed looked at me with his deep, brown eyes for they told a story of horror and pain that no one, never mind a child, should ever have to experience.

The little Rohingya boy spoke in a slow, deliberate monotone voice. He had a story to tell and in a camp of more than 670,000 it is difficult for anyone, let alone a child, to have his voice heard.IMG-20171222-WA0017

As we talked through a translator, someone asked me if I had sought his parent’s permission. I shook my head in the negative and could barely respond.

You see Mohammed has no parents. They were slaughtered along with the rest of his family in a killing orgy by the monsters of Myanmar who tore through his village in Tulatuli, Maungdaw with their guns, machetes and swords.

His home is now a room of plastic and bamboo in Thainkhali Camp, one of the many that stretches over a vast site near the Myanmar border in Bangladesh.

It is a far cry from the home he shared with his father Noor Islam, 42, and his mother Hamida Khatu, 35, and his five brothers and sister Taslima.

“I can’t remember the date or the day it happened,” he told me but around 9am he remembers fleeing from his home with the rest of his family as brutal military forces fired randomly at any moving target.

Clutching his 15 month old brother Arkan Ulla close to his chest, they were separated from the rest of the family and ended up in a field with many other villagers.

They had been corralled there by the military and as the boy stood, bewildered, hugging his little brother, gunfire crackled through the air and a number of men standing nearby fell to the ground.

“Among those who fell I recognised two of my uncles, Mohamed and Abdul Malik,” recalled Mohammed.

I asked him if he could remember anything else and he told me how a pious, religious old man had stood fearlessly as the carnage was played out in the field.

“The soldiers pointed their guns at him and the triggers jammed. They couldn’t shoot him and it was as though something was protecting him. The soldiers got angry and one went up with a long sword and cut him down. He died,” said Mohamed in the same monotone voice.

He didn’t fidget but stood before me rigidly as more horrifying details poured from his mouth. It was as though he needed to download the memories of that awful day so he could share the burden … and it is a burden. Every time I think of this child my eyes well with tears and if you can empathise you will too for the horror of that day had only just begun.

The military separated the villagers in to three groups and while they were doing this Mohammed glimpsed his mother. She reached out her arms and took Arkan Ulla from him. The toddler was handed over to his sisters who were then led away. He would not see them again.

Another group including himself, his mother and aunty were corralled and pushed into a house. Once inside a soldier held a gun to his mother’s head and demanded money and jewellery.

He became angry when she said she had neither and so he began beating Mohammed in front of her with a stick. “I was beaten hard on the left side of my head and then another soldier lifted a big knife and brought the blade down on my head.”

The blow not only split Mohammed’s head open but it was so forceful he was knocked unconscious. “I was left alone after that because I think everyone thought I was dead,” he told me.

When he regained conscious the soldiers had gone but they had left behind a house of horrors which will haunt him for the rest of his days. “I saw my mother lying on the ground and I went to her but she was not moving. Her throat had been cut open. I was the only one left alive.”

Bewildered and in shock, and deaf in one ear, the boy ran from the house when he realised it was on fire. As the flames ripped through the house Mohamed ran towards the paddy fields and hid there until the morning.

The village was smouldering and dead bodies were strewn everywhere. Alone and afraid he followed a stream until he arrived at the village of Wykum.

Among the survivors he looked for any familiar faces but there were none. He spent the first four days and four nights alone and terrified wondering what his fate would be when he saw a group of other Muslims and joined them.

Two days later he was in Bangladesh. Doctors treated his head wound and six stitches were inserted. He showed me the scar on his scalp – not in the proud, boastful way young boys show off their wounds.

Expressionless throughout his compelling story, he bowed down and showed me where the blade had ripped open his scalp.

By chance, an uncle spotted him with the other orphan children and took him to a room where he saw his grandmother. But to his amazement there in the room was his younger brother Rowzi Ulla. The seven-year-old has been afflicted with deafness and no speech after an illness when he was a toddler.

“When I saw Rowzi I ran towards him and cried. He cried and we hugged and we cried again. We both thought we were alone in the world but now we have each other.”

Mohammed then looked at me with his deep brown eyes when I asked him what he wanted to do in the future. “I don’t know what I want. I only have a brother. Sometimes I think I would be better if I died with my family and other times I thank God I’m still alive.”

He paused momentarily and added: “The bad people should be punished for what they have done to me and everyone else”.

There was no anger in his voice, no faltering or stuttering words or signs of emotion, that was left to me.

I made Mohammed a promise. I said we would do our best to get the bad men who did bad things.

No child should have to experience this and no one reading Mohamed’s story should rest until the wickedness that visited his village that day is dealt with in a court of law.

While the United Nations dither and international politics are being played by powerful men in powerful place, we should remember Mohamed and we should deliver justice to that little boy.

Thanks to Salaam Foundation’s efforts in helping towards funding a team of lawyers we are compiling eye witness accounts like Mohammed’s. He, like every single person in the refugee camps on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, needs justice.

The pain and suffering experienced by the Rohingya people will never go away but it is our duty to see that justice is delivered on their behalf.

War crimes have been committed on an industrial scale by a ruthless military, assisted by some buddhist men and local police officers. We are now beginning to build up a picture of what happened in villages like Tulatuli and, more importantly, names and identities of those who committed these atrocities are beginning to emerge.

I have a message for the monsters of Myanmar: We are coming for you and we know who you are.

 

Part 2

By Yvonne Ridley | 22 December 2017

Today has been harrowing.

I always knew this journey would be an emotional one but until you sit down with some of the Rohingya refugees and talk about their flight from persecution and tyranny, it is difficult to imagine this horrific journey from the dark side.

Today I was given a glimpse of man’s inhumanity to man, a peek inside the satanic world of violence, brutality and cruelty endured by a people who have been targeted for no other reason than their belief in Islam. Witness after witness took me back to August of this year when the Monsters of Myanmar unleashed a living hell on some of the most gentle people on earth.

Eyes welled with salty tears as fragile Rohingya women and men recounted their nightmare journey. The tears came from those telling their stories, those listening and translating their stories and those taking their testimony to use one day in a court of justice.

Salaam Foundation, the charitable wing of Salaamedia, has part-funded this all woman team of lawyers from South Africa who jetted out to Bangladesh a few days ago to spearhead a ground-breaking legal mission.

Everyone from Shaida Mahomed, an advocate of the High Court of the Republic of South Africa, to Tasneem Fredericks, attorney, notary public and conveyancer and human rights advocate, Shabnam Mayet, are determined to deliver justice to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees now living on the border near Myanmar.

This unique enterprise is aimed at bringing to justice those who have committed war crimes and genocide against the minority Muslim community.

Lawyer Shabnam Mayet, who set up Protect the Rohingya campaign several years ago, is undaunted by the fact the United Nations is still slow to act against the genocide of the Rohingya people. She is equally determined to set in place, the essential building bricks needed to prepare a case against those suspected of war crimes.

From day one, the all-woman legal team has been in the camps taking witness statements from early morning until late afternoon before heading back to their hotel to prepare affidavits on behalf of the victims. It is a slow, painstaking procedure but if justice is to be delivered it first must be served on those suspected of committing atrocities.

The scale of the persecution and ethnic cleansing is breathtaking and the stories told are horrific. It is painful for some to retrace their steps but their eye-witness accounts and graphic detail are needed to pursue the criminals through the courts.

Ideally those suspected of war crimes should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court, but until the UN finds a collective backbone Mayet and her legal friends are not prepared to stand by and wait.

There are several legal options open to the group who are confident other lawyers around the world will join forces to make it difficult for the Monsters of Myanmar to travel without fear of arrest and prosecution.

“Witness statements are important as they are the first step to launching any legal proceedings,” says Mayet from Johannesburg. “Our aim is to simplify taking legal action for activist lawyers around the world who want to engage in lawfare by making our statements available to those working in their national jurisdictions and beyond who want to make a case for crimes against the Rohingya,” she added.

Salaam Foundation’s work with Protect the Rohingya appears to be the first initiative of its kind on the ground in the refugee camps at the moment but any law firms who want to join the legal team should contact Shabzym@gmail.com and if you want to support this initiative and make a donation contact az@salaamedia.com. 

Or donate directly to:

Account: Salaam Foundation
Bank: First National Bank
Account no: 62669147665
Branch: 250737

Swift Code: FRINZAJJ

Reference: ROH Legal  

 

Part 1

By Yvonne Ridley | 21 December 2017

Despite its natural beauty and the world’s longest sandy beach stretching over 120 sun-kissed kilometres, Cox’s Bazaar has never quite made it as a major international tourist destination … until now.

And now, for all the wrong reasons, the resort in Bangladesh has become a magnet for overseas visitors who head to the region to help a beleaguered people who have survived a genocide.

Thousands of aid workers, politicians and journalists have booked in to the resort which is just an hour’s drive from the ever expanding borders of the Rohingya refugees camps.

I joined them today and the experience was surreal. Leaving behind the tropical sea views and coral reef islands I was confronted by the grim, makeshift camps of bamboo and tarpaulin which house more than 655,000 Rohingya people.

It is the size and scale which takes away your breath at first. We’ve all read the stories of how nearly one million Rohingya people have been forced to flee from their homes on the other side of the border in Myanmar. We’ve seen the harrowing images and heard personal stories of endurance and escape but it is the actual scale of this disaster which hits you on arrival.

Every rolling hill and incline is tethered with makeshift homes and it is not something which is lost on IRO, the International Relief Organisation headquartered in Germany, which is trying to make sturdier homes for the refugees who have yet to face the full force of Bangladesh’s cyclone season in May.

The first images I saw of the original exodus when 655,000 Rohingya fled into Bangladesh in August from the Rakhine State were brought to me by Salaamedia’s, Azhar Vadi. The pair of us toured around Johannesburg with Salaamedia to raise awareness about the plight of the Rohingya people.

I had written about the injustices facing them before but there’s nothing like an eye witness account to really take you into the midst of this crisis and that’s exactly what Azhar Vadi did. His account and footage was compelling as he talked about what he saw as he walked through the makeshift camps.

I watched audiences tear up and begin to cry as he described the hardship and pain endured by these heroic people.

Now, today, I’m following in his footsteps with a group of South African lawyers headed by Shabnam Mayet who formed Protect The Rohingya organisation some years back. Salaamedia is supporting the team in their work to prepare the legal ground to bring those responsible to justice.

It is not going to be an easy task but the lawyers aim to collect at least 100 statements from the refugees about how the Myanmar military systematically and callously set about ethnically cleansing the Rohingya population from former Burma’s Rakhine State.

Every single refugee has a story to tell; a story of brutality, fear, courage and determination to survive in the face of the most wicked and evil behaviour thrown at a people since Srebenica, Rwanda and the events which led to the Holocaust in World War II.

As I said before, nothing prepares you for the scale of the problem, the volume of victims, the harrowing stories they have to tell.

Over the next few days I hope to share with you a diary of events and maybe talk about some of the war crimes that have been committed against this beautiful, gentle race of people.

Thanks to the efforts of Salaamedia and its support of Protect the Rohingya, justice will be delivered to the Rohingya Muslims one day. This isn’t just a case of putting food and medicine on the table – although that is still greatly needed – but it is also making sure that those responsible for this genocide are brought to justice.

At the moment there seems to be little appetite by the United Nations to pursue those in authority, the generals and political leaders of Myanmar, for the brutality they’ve unleashed on nearly one million innocents. However there are other ways of delivering justice and as the Myanmar military are about to find out, unless they intend to remain within their own country’s borders business and private trips abroad will become fraught with problems.

Over the next few days I intend to let you know how that will be done, but in the meantime please continue your support of Salaamedia. None of this could be achieved without your backing.

Editors note: To support the Rohingya relief fund you can make a contribution to:

Account: Salaam Foundation
Bank: First National Bank
Account no: 62669147665
Branch: 250737

Swift Code: FRINZAJJ

Reference: ROH Legal  

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