Update, May 25, 3:25 pm with revisions as of 8:08 pm:

A May 24 Los Angeles Times article: Monk dubbed 'Buddhist Bin Laden' targets Myanmar's persecuted Muslims provides additional light on why the Rohingyas are so desperate to leave Burma, even at the risk of their lives in crowded, inadequately supplied boats at the mercy of human traffickers, while hoping to reach countries which refuse to accept them.



The Huffington Post story in my original post below mentions violence resulting from clashes between the Muslim Rohingyas and members of Burma's Buddhist majority as one of the causes of the Rohingyas' mass exodus from that country. This could, conceivably, lead to a misunderstanding on the part of some readers to the effect that the Rohingyas are not really refugees under international law because they are purportedly fleeing from random violence, not government persecution, even though the Huffpost article also mentions "the hate-mongering rhetoric of extremist Buddhist monks".

The LA Times article, however, makes clear that these monks speak for and with the approval of the Burmese government, if not with its open support. According to this report, the most vocal of these monks, who has been called the "Buddhist Bin Laden", is named Ashin Wirathu. The LA Times relates:

"Wirathu, 46, might bear as much responsibility as any individual for the desperate exodus of Muslims from Myanmar aboard overcrowded fishing boats bound for Thailand and Malaysia.

In speeches and Facebook posts, he has warned of an impending 'jihad' against the huge Buddhist majority, spread rumors of Muslims systematically raping Buddhist women and called for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses...

He represents the blunt edge of systematic religious discrimination in Myanmar that has driven about 1 million Rohingyas, a Muslim minority group, to the farthest margins of society...

rights groups say Wirathu and the radical group he leads, called 969, stoked sectarian riots that have killed scores since 2012."

The LA Times article leaves no room for doubt that Wirathu's activities are entirely in line with official government policy toward the Rohingyas:

"Wirathu's militant Buddhist nationalism is fed by official propaganda that portrays the Rohingya as people from Bangladesh who entered Myanmar illegally, although many Rohingya families have liven in Myanmar for generations. Government policies deny the Rohingya citizenship or the right to vote and subject them to severe restrictions on movement, marriage and procreation...

'Wirathu plays a central role with his hate speech and the Islamophobia it creates, given that the Rohingya are surrounded by a hostile community that can be whipped into violence very quickly,' says Penny Green, director of the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London and author of a forthcoming report on Myanmar."
(Emphasis added.)

See also, Reuters:

Special Report: Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks
(June 27, 2013).


According to Reuters, the hate-promoting 969 movement, which calls mosques "enemy bases", enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks, and even some members of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy, and Burma's minister of religious affairs is among Wirathu's admirers.

The Rohingyas are far away from America and are virtually unknown in the US. But their plight should be a warning to our own politicians of the terrible consequences that can result from engaging in Islamophobia, as well as "negative ethnicity" (to use a term coined by a Kenyan Gikuyu activist, Koigi Wa Wamwere, in his 2003 book of the same name) against millions of Hispanic immigrants by agitating in favor of taking away Constitutionally guaranteed birthright citizenship from their US-born children unless their parents have legal status. This could only lead to expulsion of many of these children, resulting in de facto if not de jure ethnic cleansing in America.

The following is my original May 23 post:

Since the time that I posted my May 18 comments about the inhumane refusal of certain Southeast Asian countries to let the Rohingya boat people from Burma land despite their desperate conditions after having been abandoned at sea by human trackers, there appears to have been a change of heart by the countries concerned, namely Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Even Burma is now reportedly engaging in rescue operations. See:


Malaysia and Indonesia, at least, are now willing to accept the refugees temporarily while other countries make arrangements, with the help of the UN, to resettle them permanently.

This may take some time. Only one country, Gambia, an impoverished West African dictatorship, has offered to accept them so far.

Since the Rohingya are hardly a household word in America, or anywhere else outside South Asia and Southeast Asia, some readers may ask whether they are really refugees at all, or merely economic migrants in search of a better life. Answers to this question can be found in a May 22 Huffington Post story:

Why Rohingyas Are Willing To Risk Everything To Flee Myanmar


The Huffpost provides the following background to the persecution of this Muslim group in mainly Buddhist Burma:

"A majority of Rohingya Muslims live in Rakhine, a Buddhist majority state in western Myanmar [Burma]. The group says its members descend from Arab traders...and have lived in the area for hundreds of years. Many people in Myanmar, however, including prominent political and religious leaders, consider the Rohingyas...Bengalis who migrated to Myanmar illegally and have no right to live in the country."

In 1982, Myanmar approved a law that officially restricted citizenship to members of ethnic groups it said had settled in modern-day Myanmar prior to 1823. The Rohingya were not considered one of these groups and its members effectively became stateless...

"The lack of citizenship deprives Rohingyas of their basic rights, including access to education, freedom of land movement, land rights, the protection of their property and the right to marry freely."
(Emphasis added.)

The article continues:

"Tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rahkine state have lingered for decades, partly fueled by hate-mongering rhetoric of extremist Buddhist monks...

But the anti-Rohingya sentiment transgresses Rakhine state's border and is widespread among Myanmar's Buddhist population...Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, said in 2012...that the only solution to the sectarian strife between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine was to expel the Rohingya to other countries or camps overseen by the United Nations refugee agency. The issue is so sensitive that even Aun San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner fro Myanmar, has failed to speak out about it."
​(Emphasis added.)

The Huffpost story continues:

"The tensions between Buddhists and Rohingyas led to major violence...in 2012 and 2013 when clashes left hundreds dead and forced 140,000 Rohingya people to flee their homes for temporary refugee camps outside the state capitol, Sittwe.

The camps are known for horrible conditions; they lack adequate housing, sanitary conditions, access to food education and health care...

'I witnessed a level of human suffering in the IDP camps that I have personally never seen before...appalling conditions...' UN Assistant General-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-hwa Kang said after visiting the camps..."
(Emphasis added.)

The same article also explains that conditions are just as bad outside the camps, and that many Rohingyas are barred from leaving their villages, where they are unable to pursue education or employment.

According to this report, about 300,000 have fled to Bangladesh, where life is no easier, except for the 30,000, only 10 percent, who have been able to register with the UN as refugees. It would seem that the UN is not geared up to handle entire populations who are victims of ethnic cleansing.

Those who are not in the UN refugee camps live in constant fear of deportation, according to the above report. They are also dependent on those who are officially registered with the UN for the essentials of life.

Bangladesh, according to the Huffpost, is trying to make life for the Rohingyas so difficult that they will leave of their own accord. We have a term for this enhanced internal enforcement policy in the United States. It is known as "self-deportation".

How well has that been working in America? In Southeast Asia, it has only led to revenue for the smugglers and to the tragedies at sea which the world is now beginning, however reluctantly, to face up to.
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been helping skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas and green cards for more than 30 years.

His practice is concentrated in H-1B specialty worker, O-1 extraordinary ability, L-1 intracompany transfer and J-1 trainee visas, and green cards through Labor Cerification and opposite sex or same sex marriage.

Roger's email address is algaselex@gmail.com