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Press Release: US Government Needs to Step Up to Avert Growing Humanitarian Disaster of Rohingya Refugees

For Immediate Release

(Washington DC, May 18, 2015) – Today, US Campaign for Burma calls on the U.S. government to take leadership in providing immediate humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya refugees as well as putting effective pressure on the Burmese government to end its systemic ethnic cleansing program of the Rohingya.

Facing severe persecution in Burma, UNCHR estimates that 130,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled their country by sea since the outbreak of targeted violence began in June 2012. Thousands of Rohingya are now stranded at sea as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have pushed back boatloads of desperate Rohingya refugees and possible victims of trafficking from Bangladesh. Some boatloads of Rohingya have now been at sea for months. The United Nations has warned of a developing “massive humanitarian disaster.”

“We urge the U.S. government to step up and take leadership to help these Rohingya refugees," said Simon Billenness, Executive Director of US Campaign for Burma. “We call on the United States to use its air and naval resources to help provide immediate and necessary humanitarian assistance. Washington should also urge countries in the region to accept these refugees.”

The United States frequently conducts military drills on disaster response and humanitarian assistance in Southeast Asia. Specifically, the U.S. military could use reconnaissance imagery and the deployment of naval and air assets to locate boats at sea and rescue those in danger.

“We welcome the renewal of authority to maintain sanctions as announced by President Obama on Friday, May 15. However more action must be taken to ensure that President Thein Sein honors his responsibility, as stated by the United Nations, to protect and provide humanitarian assistance to those in internally displaced camps in western Rakhine state,” stated Simon Billenness.

“The impetus of this exodus is the Burmese government’s stripping of the Rohingya and others of their only legal documentation, known as white cards,” said Jennifer Quigley, President of the US Campaign for Burma.

In September 2014, Burmese President Thein Sein signed into law a bill that stripped associate, naturalized, and temporary certificate holders (commonly known as white card holders) of the right to form or participate in political parties. Furthermore, on February 11, 2015, President Thein Sein issued an executive order revoking “white cards” effective March 31, 2015. This presidential order prevents the Rohingya and other white card holders from voting in elections and further renders them stateless without identification. These two moves disenfranchised more than a million Burmese people rendering any subsequent election in Burma as illegitimate if not rectified.

“Many Rohingya families can trace their history in Burma going back generations,” Jennifer Quigley further stated. “But the Burmese government has not just revoked their citizenship but also even the hope of ever regaining that citizenship. That’s why we call on the international community to put effective pressure on the Burmese government to end this oppression of the Rohingya designed to force them to flee their country.”

For media inquiries:

Simon Billenness
Executive Director
US Campaign for Burma
(202) 234-8022 (work)
(617) 596-6158 (cell)

Brianna Oliver
Communications Director
US Campaign for Burma
(202) 234-8022 (work)
(202) 510-8553 (cell)


Click to view the Press Release in PDF here