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U.S., UN respond to Burma’s Rohingya crisis

International | Refugees in Bangladesh lack healthcare, food, and sanitation
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/24/17, 01:13 pm

The U.S. State Department on Monday threatened to take further action against Myanmar’s military if it fails to end its attacks against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The threat comes as the United Nations held a donor conference to raise funds and awareness about the dire humanitarian conditions of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees seeking shelter in Bangladesh. The UN said 35 countries and international organizations pledged $335 million to aid the refugees in Bangladesh at a one-day emergency funding conference Monday. The UN set a $434 million target as it raised concern for the refugees’ plight.

Rohingya militants on Aug. 25 staged an attack on Myanmar military posts in Rakhine state. The UN accused the Myanmar military of ethnic cleansing after it responded with clearance operations that also targeted civilians. Some 603,000 Rohingya have since fled into neighboring Bangladesh, and aid workers on the ground said more people continue to arrive. Many of the Rohingya who fled told stories of burned houses, killings, and rape. Bangladesh, already one of the world’s poorest countries, is struggling to assist the refugees.

More than 60 percent of the refugees are children, and many of them arrived malnourished. Dr. Joanne Liu with Doctors Without Borders said thousands of Rohingya live in settlements in Bangladesh, but many others have taken shelter in forests and other barely accessible regions.

“It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of the crisis until you see it with your own eyes,” she said. “We need more organizations on the ground building latrines, water pumps, providing healthcare, and distributing food.”

The U.S. State Department in a Monday statement called on Myanmar, also known as Burma, to take immediate action to ensure peace and humanitarian access to people in need, facilitate the voluntary and safe return of the refugees, and address the root causes of discrimination against the Rohingya. The administration already ended travel waivers for former and current Myanmar military officials and barred U.S. assistance to the military. The United States is considering further economic sanctions against some of the parties responsible for the violence.

“It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including nonstate actors and vigilantes, be held accountable,” the statement said.

Associated Press/Photo by Matthias Schrader Associated Press/Photo by Matthias Schrader Victor Orban

Hungary steps up to fight persecution

Under Prime Minister Victor Orban’s leadership, Hungary is taking the lead in helping persecuted Middle Eastern Christians.

At a government-sponsored conference this month on the topic, Orban reminded attendees that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. While condemning all persecution of Christians, Orban focused on regions where violence and genocide caused the “forced expulsion” of millions of Middle Eastern and African Christians in recent years.

“The greatest danger we face today is the indifferent, apathetic silence of a Europe which denies its Christian roots,” Orban said. There is “no excuse for Hungarians not taking action and not honoring the obligation rooted in their Christian faith,” he added.

A little more than half of Hungary’s population identifies as Christian even after Soviet-era repression, according to the CIA World Factbook. Advocates, religious leaders, and political officials from 30 countries discussed how to solve the Christian persecution crisis at the Budapest event, according to the National Catholic Register.

Orban argued for helping Christians return to their homelands and said Hungary was giving directly to churches in those nations rather than through “customary” channels like the UN. That approach isn’t universally supported.

Hungary created a deputy state secretariat for the aid of persecuted Christians in 2016. The nation has spent millions of euros on Iraq reconstruction and a scholarship program to bring Catholic students to study in Hungary.

Many leaders thanked Hungary for its help, including Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, who sent a message to the conference. Sako called on other countries to do more to meet the educational, security, and humanitarian needs of persecuted Christians, the Register reported. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Manish Swarup Associated Press/Photo by Manish Swarup Christians in New Delhi, India, protest religious violence in December 2007.

Mob attacks church in India

A large mob recently attacked Christians during a church service in Chhattisgarh State, India, leaving nine hospitalized—two in critical condition.

International Christian Concern (ICC) learned from witnesses that more than 300 Hindu radicals attacked the Bastar for Christ Movement church on Oct. 15, dragging people out of the service and beating those who refused to renounce Christianity.

Police refused to file a report on behalf of the Christians until after they protested for 24 hours.

ICC regional manager William Stark said that in the days that followed the attack, Hindu extremists went door-to-door threatening to drive Christians from the village or punish them if they did not attend an Oct. 22 event to reconvert to Hinduism. A local pastor told ICC 15-20 people participated in the reconversion, but those who wouldn’t remain “very concerned.”

The attacks preceded Chhattisgarh state elections in which the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought to retain power.

“The BJP leaders in elections, especially state elections, often use religiously divisive speeches to gather support,” Stark said. They make Hindu nationalist remarks at rallies, which existing radicals hear, and “then they feel they have license to go enact things violently,” he said.

Add in the failure of police enforcement, and the cycle of persecution repeats. —J.S.

Hong Kong releases Umbrella Movement leaders on bail

Hong Kong’s Final Court of Appeals on Tuesday released on bail two pro-democracy protest leaders accused of staging mass demonstrations in 2014. Nathan Law, 24, and Joshua Wong, 21, received bail until their appeal hearing Nov. 7, according to their political party, Demosisto. The court initially convicted Law and Wong, along with Nathan Chow, for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement, in which protesters called for increased democracy. All three received prison sentences in August after the court ruled their earlier punishment inadequate. Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said both Wong and Law would pay a $6,400 bail fee, turn in their travel documents, and report to police once a week. “Our time in prison is just a process and a chance for us to strengthen our determination to fight for democracy,” Wong said outside the court.

The release comes as China’s Communist Party ends its twice-a-decade congress in Beijing that saw President Xi Jinping extend his power. The ruling party amended its constitution to include his name and his ideology on “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.” No other leaders since the party’s founder, Mao Zedong, wrote their name and ideology into the constitution while in office. —O.O.

Italian missionary kidnapped in Nigeria released

An Italian Catholic priest kidnapped last week in southern Nigeria has been released, Italy’s Foreign Ministry confirmed. Gunmen kidnapped the 63-year-old Rev. Maurizio Pallu in Benin City as he was traveling. Pallu told Vatican radio the gunmen took him and two other captives to an isolated spot in a forest. The Florence, Italy, native is a traveling priest with the Family Foundation of Nazareth and served as a missionary in Nigeria for three years. The group runs a charity that provides medical care to remote villages in the region. Pallu said he plans to continue working in Nigeria “because the devil is defeated by staying here.” Kidnappings for ransom are common in the country, where victims are often released after payment. Earlier this month, gunmen kidnapped four British missionaries from their home in southern Delta state. O.O.

Somalia declares war on terror group

A Somali police official said a Sunday roadside bomb killed at least six people and injured three others. The attack comes shortly after a truck bombing in the capital, Mogadishu, killed at least 358 people in the country’s worst terror attack. Col. Ahmed Nur said the bomb hit a minibus carrying farmers near Ballad town north of Mogadishu. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed over the weekend declared a “state of war” against the terror group al-Shabaab following the Oct. 14 attack in Mogadishu. Army spokesman Capt. Abdullahi Iman said the offensive would involve thousands of troops trying to push out terrorists from their strongholds in the country. Thousands of Somalis gathered at the site of the Mogadishu attack to pray for the victims. “This pain will last for years,” said a sheikh leading prayers at the site. —O.O.

Kenya remains tense ahead of Thursday election do-over

Kenyans will return to the polls Thursday for a redo of the country’s presidential election amid a tense political climate. Following the August vote that saw incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta declared winner, the Supreme Court nullified the result based on irregularities. Kenya’s opposition coalition said it would not participate in the elections “because it does not serve the country’s interest.” Opposition leader Raila Odinga earlier accused Kenya’s electoral commission of failing to make necessary amendments to ensure a free and fair election. Amnesty International said clashes between security forces and protesters since the first vote killed at least 30 people. The UN and African Union both called for peace and restraint. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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