Pray, Act in Love and Never Give Up: Meeting Rohingya Refugees and ARSA
5 April 2018
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
We just returned from Bangladesh, where we met some of the Rohingya who have fled from Burma Army attacks, as well as meeting with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a resistance movement formed to try to stop the Burma Army attacks. Since August 25, 2017, over 650,000 Rohingya from Burma have joined the more than 300,000 Rohingya refugees already in Bangladesh, all chased out of their homes in Arakan State, western Burma.
The Rohingya people in the refugee camps live in miles and miles of stifling hot shacks, with little water and few sanitation facilities. I came with my daughter Sahale and joined some of our HQ team who have been doing an outstanding job of training Rohingya to go back to help people and get the news out. As we walked through one of the camps, people shared stories of what they had suffered and the hopelessness of the situation made me want to cry.
At one point, a beat-up truck pulled up and a woman stepped out, carrying bags and with a tired look of sorrow on her face. “I had to flee,” she said. “The Burma Army kills, rapes, steals and beats people as they like; it is impossible to stay. I tried, but it was no use. No one is there to help us, no one can protect us.”
A look of pain came over her face and Sahale hugged her. She held on to Sahale and then looked up and said strongly, “It is wrong what the Burma Army is doing, but there is no standing against them.”
Later I stopped a frail old man in the camp, who had a special look, dignified despite the squalor of his surroundings. As I looked closer, I could see he also looked tired and sad.
I asked him why he had left Burma. He looked at me with deep, sad eyes and said, “I saw my two sons killed in front of me. How could I stay?” A tear rolled down his face and his shoulders slumped. I held him and told him I was sorry and prayed as he cried.
It is estimated that over 7,000 men, women and children have been killed and over 1,000 women raped. Neither the international community, nor anyone in Burma have been able to stop the Burma Army. Aung San Suu Kyi and the elected government have not defended the Rohingya, and the military, which has ultimate power, has continued its persecution.
In the face of this assault a new organization, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, has been formed to try to stand with and for the Rohingya. On this trip, we met members of ARSA and they told us their aims.
“We want to be citizens and have the protection of the law. We do not want a separate or federal system. We are happy to be part of Burma in Rakhine State. We only want the basic rights all people in Burma should have,” they said. We were told about one of the ARSA leaders who was born in Arakan State, but due to oppression his family fled to Saudi Arabia. He returned to Burma to help his people who are under attack.
The ARSA leader continued to say, “Will anyone help us? We are not strong enough to stop the Burma Army, but we cannot stand by and do nothing as our people are killed and chased out of their homes. The world is not willing to help and this makes us feel very sad, like we are not worth anything. Who will help our people go home with safety and peace? We have many people who want to do something, but we have fewer than 40 guns. We do not want to fight but what can we do? Even in these camps, we are not safe from the Burma Army and those who help them.”
The ARSA leader I was talking to then lifted up his shirt to show a gunshot wound on his chest and the exit wound on his back. Pointing to his wounds he said, “I was shot here in the refugee camp last month. I have a wife and children. I want them to be able to go home. Who will help us?”
I prayed with them and said, “It looks hopeless but we each can pray to God, act in love and not give up. We will not hate but we will stand and find ways to help people. We do this while also praying for the Burma government and military to change.” I told them our FBR teams are here to help the Rohingya, and even though we are small we will do all we can.
From our brief time with ARSA and through our own research, we have found no credible evidence of instances of terrorism or support from terrorist groups. The Burma Army calls ARSA terrorists, but the Burma Army have applied that label to any of the ethnic groups that try to defend their people. We are concerned that if the Rohingya are not helped, terrorism could develop, either out of desperation or through the influence of radical terrorist groups who might exploit the abandonment of the Rohingya as proof that there is no other way.
Our FBR teams will do their best to help the Rohingya people and tell their story. We also want to remind people that the ongoing assault against the Rohingya is only one example of widespread oppression by the Burma Army. In northern Burma, attacks from the air and ground are ongoing against the Kachin, northern Shan and Ta’ang, with over 100,000 people displaced, while Burma Army attacks in Karen State in early March displaced over 2,000 people.
Thank you for praying and standing with the Rohingya people and all in Burma.
God bless you,
Dave, family and FBR