The Muslim Student Association held a vigil on O’Neill Plaza for the victims and refugees in the Rohingya genocide on Thursday evening.
The oppression of the Rohingya people, the ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), has been happening for years and has only gotten worse in 2017.
According to a report published by the United Nations, violence against the Rohingya people has reached a new high. In February 2014, there were 1.33 million Rohingya in Myanmar and more than one million living overseas in countries like Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, India, and Pakistan. Over 87,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since the military launched a crackdown in October 2016.
As per the event description, the MSA’s goal is to “raise awareness to the atrocities being committed against the Rohingyas and give their suffering a voice.”
Aneeb Sheikh, a member of the MSA and MCAS ’20, started the vigil by telling a story of an atrocity. This one was about a Rohingya woman, Rajuma, and her 18-month-old son, which was recently featured in The New York Times.
“She was standing chest-high in the water, clutching her baby son, while her village in Myanmar burned behind her,” Sheikh said. “‘They threw my baby into a fire, they just flung him,’ she [the mother] said.”
Sheikh said that two soldiers raped her, and then raped and killed her two sisters. They then shot her mother and 10-year old brother.
Rev. James Hairston, campus minister for multi-faith programs, shared a story about a time when he was given a ribbon that raised awareness of the struggles that were happening in Myanmar. He discussed how he kept the ribbon, but until recently, he did not delve deeper into finding out more about the atrocities that were happening. His message to students was to not only keep those suffering in Myanmar in their prayers, but also to make sure they are taking action.
Abdul Rahman Latif, the Muslim chaplain for MSA, spoke about the appalling acts of violence that the government in Myanmar has committed against the Rohingya people and the need for justice regardless of what some might think about the ethnic minority.
“Justice is something that should not be our concern only when it affects us or those close to us, it should be a concern at all times,” Rahman said.
Nurun Nahar, MCAS ’20, talked about the displacement of the refugees from Myanmar, and how they are often met with hostility in neighboring countries. She spoke of a few volunteer groups, such as Helping Hand USA, that travel to countries like Bangladesh and help provide food and water to the refugees.
Nurun also spoke about the need for greater awareness of this humanitarian crisis, especially on a political level. She advocated for students to inform their representatives in Congress and lobby them to address the crisis by advocating for sending aid and airlifting supplies to the refugees.
Zainab Kiyam, treasurer of the MSA and MCAS ’18, concluded the event with a solemn story and a prayer.
She told a story of 1,100 children who arrived to a refugee camp on their own,and had to walk for miles from what was left of their village.
“The lucky ones were just separated from their loved ones,” Zainab said, “But for the rest of them, their parents were killed.”
She asked the students to imagine themselves as being a Rohingya refugee—scared for their lives, hopeless, and not knowing what the next day holds.
“May we always remember the value of every human person, and may we always seek to act in ways that uphold the whole dignity and value of the human person,” Zainab said.