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Myanmar Refugees, including Muslim Rohingya likely to outpace Syrian Arrivals in US

State Department figures show the number of Rohingya arrivals from Myanmar jumped from just over 650 in fiscal 2014 to 2,573 in 2015

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FILE - Rohingya people pass their time in a damaged shelter in a Rohingya displaced-persons camp outside Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar, Aug. 4, 2015. VOA

But refugees from Myanmar, whose leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, visited Washington last week, have quietly outpaced Syrian arrivals in recent years, even as Syria’s civil war intensifies, with an increasing number coming from the marginalised Rohingya Muslim community, according to State Department figures.

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From October 1, 2015, to September 15 of this year, 11,902 Myanmar nationals were resettled in the United States, according to figures from the Refugee Processing Center, operated by the State Department, compared with 11,598 arrivals from Syria over the same period.

That was out of a total of nearly 79,600 refugees who arrived in the United States in that period. The largest group, numbering just over 15,000, was from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Arrivals from Syria, where Islamic State and other radical groups are active, are subject to additional screening processes, according to the White House.

State Department figures show the number of Rohingya arrivals from Myanmar jumped from just over 650 in fiscal 2014 to 2,573 last year. This year, 2,173 had arrived as of September 15.

During a meeting with Suu Kyi in the Oval Office last Wednesday, Obama announced that the United States would remove sanctions originally imposed on the country in 1997 when it was ruled by a military junta that brutally suppressed pro-democracy movements and showed little regard for human rights.

The decision raised alarm among rights groups, who are concerned about the plight of the stateless Rohingya among other ethnic minorities.

FILE - A boy searches for useful items among the ashes of burned-down dwellings at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's western Rakhine state near Sittwe, May 3, 2016.
FILE – A boy searches for useful items among the ashes of burned-down dwellings at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state near Sittwe, May 3, 2016. VOA

Long-persecuted minority

The Rohingya have long been persecuted in Myanmar, where they are viewed largely as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have lived in the country for generations.

Increased freedom of speech since the military stepped back from the direct rule in 2011 has allowed for the unleashing of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment.

Around 125,000 remain confined to temporary camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine state following waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims. Most were stripped of their ability to vote in last year’s election.

Most Rohingya tend to come to the United States after spending years in Muslim-majority Malaysia and being granted refugee status by the United Nations.

Nasir Bin Zakaria, who founded the Rohingya Culture Center in Chicago — home to one of the largest populations of Rohingya in the United States — estimates that there are just over 1,000 Rohingya in the city. He fled Myanmar after being forced to work as a porter when he was 16, he said.

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Nasir Bin Zakaria said that the ability to move around freely and legally made life in Chicago far better than in Myanmar and Malaysia, but it is not without its own challenges for refugees. The city of 2.7 million is struggling with a surge of killings, with 509 killings this year, according to the Chicago Police Department.

Newly arrived children from refugee families, unfamiliar to the United States, are an enticing target for gangs looking to recruit, said Melineh Kano, executive director of RefugeeOne, a resettlement agency in Chicago.

“When we are selecting neighbourhoods, we have to be very careful about the crime rate and gang recruitment, because the majority of refugees come with kids,” she said. “You either join or you get beaten up.” (VOA)

Next Story

Armed Assailants Attack Newly Reopened Ebola Treatment Center in Congo

The attack in Butembo came in the early-morning hours and left one police officer dead and several workers injured

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congo, ebola treatment
Health workers are seen through a bullet hole left in the window of an Ebola treatment center, which was attacked in early on March 9, 2019, in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Armed assailants on Saturday attacked an Ebola treatment center in the Democratic Republic of the Congo less than a week after it reopened following a previous attack. 

The attack in Butembo came in the early-morning hours and left one police officer dead and several workers injured. 

Butembo Mayor Sylvain Kanyamanda told reporters that security forces had defended the center and wounded one of the attackers. 

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited the center several hours later and encouraged health care workers to continue fighting the deadly Ebola virus. 

“It breaks my heart to think of the health workers injured and police officer who died in today’s attack, as we continue to mourn those who died in previous attacks while defending the right to health,” Ghebreyesus told reporters. “We have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world.” 

After the previous attack on the Butembo center, Doctors Without Borders suspended its operations in the city.

congo, ebola treatment
A woman looks at burned equipement in an Ebola treatment center, which was attacked early on March 9, 2019, in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Precautions stir doubts

Anti-Ebola efforts already have faced adversity from residents suspicious of the extensive precautions taken by the health care workers to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease. Because Ebola virus can be transmitted through a victim’s bodily fluids even after death, even burial of the victims requires stringent safety protocols.

Thursday, Doctors Without Borders President Joanne Liu said the containment efforts used to control the latest outbreak of Ebola, which started in August last year, faced a “climate of deepening community mistrust” that was worsened by the use of security guards at treatment centers.

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Congo’s health ministry has warned the attacks in Butembo and on another treatment center in Katwa last month can lead to a “significant upsurge” in new Ebola cases.

More than 86 percent of the confirmed cases over the past three weeks came from Butembo and Katwa, according to the health ministry.

The current outbreak is considered the worst since the two-year outbreak in West Africa that started in 2014 and killed more than 11,000 people. (VOA)