Nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya people from Myanmar (Burma) have already spent two miserable years in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. Murder, arson, rape and arbitrary arrest – this is what the Rohingya have endured at the hands of the Myanmar military, driving more than half the community in Myanmar to flee. This Muslim people group are rightly recognised as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. But there is a minority within the minority, who are persecuted still more – the Christian Rohingyas.
Despised and rejected
Estimated at just a few hundred in the camp – possibly up to 2,000 – Rohingya Christians are mainly converts from Islam. They are isolated from other Christians in Bangladesh. Their existence is unrecognised by other Rohingyas, except as a group to be despised and rejected.
2019 – a year of anti-Christian violence
This year has seen a spate of anti-Christian violence in the camps.
The worst incident was in May, when a group of 17 Christian families (69 people) came under sustained and systematic violent attack. The families lived close to each other in one of the camps at Cox’s Bazaar. Their homes were frail and simple shacks, with walls of mud or bamboo, roofed with corrugated metal or tarpaulin.
For at least three consecutive nights, they were attacked by a Muslim mob of up to several hundred men, armed with knives, swords, iron rods, stones and catapults. Several homes were destroyed, possessions were looted, including the equipment of a Christian barber, and a boy was stabbed in the back and had to be treated in hospital. Meanwhile the barber was forced to go to the mosque to be re-converted to Islam.
None of the camp security personnel came to the aid of the Christians, when they phoned for help during the attacks.
On the last night, the Christians were told they would be killed unless they left the camp. They next day all set off but were soon driven back to the camp by police and security guards, who promised them security. But this month, September, the attacks have started again.
A Rohingya church leader pleaded with Barnabas Fund this week to encourage prayer from Christians around the world for the protection of Rohingya believers.
In another camp, a bamboo-and-tarpaulin church building and a Christian school were demolished on 27 March. Immediately the Muslims performed their ritual prayer on the site, thus turning it into a mosque.
“Chase them out of this place”
It was probably no coincidence that this year has seen repeated violence against Rohingya Christians. For in December 2018 Rohingya National News reported that angry Rohingya Muslims were calling on the Bangladeshi government to expel Rohingya Christians from the camps. One appealed to Muslim leaders worldwide to “chase them out of this place”.
Rohingya Muslims are typically peaceful and tolerant, but Saudi influence has radicalised some.
Stirring up the violence against the Christians is an extremist group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA, formerly called Harakah al-Yaqin). During the violence in May, they also pressured Muslim shopkeepers in the camp to refuse to sell to Christians. The Christians therefore struggled to buy basic groceries, even though they had small sums of money available from their UN-issue payment card.
Rohingya Christians also find they are left out when humanitarian aid from NGOs (non-governmental organisations) is given out. The international aid agencies use Rohingya Muslims to organise the distribution of rice, blankets, mosquito nets etc – the result is that the Christians receive nothing. The Christians see behind this the influence of the ARSA.
Aid from Barnabas Fund
But Barnabas Fund is working discreetly with Rohingya Christians to give them food, clothes, medication and other basic needs, as well as materials to repair homes that are damaged or destroyed, either by violence or by the heavy rains that often afflict Bangladesh.
Remember the forgotten. See the invisible. Listen to their unheard cries. Pray for their protection.
And please send a gift today to help Rohingya Christians.