Members and supporters of the Rohingya community staged a passionate demonstration in central Melbourne on Thursday morning to highlight the “genocide” being committed against their people in Myanmar and call on the Australian government to do more to stop the humanitarian tragedy.
Morning rush hour commuters near the Spring St end of Collins St were confronted by megaphone-led chanting protesters who had symbolically smeared blood on their white shirts and faces.
ACTU President Ged Kearney was one of the speakers who addressed the crowd.
Habib, a spokesperson from the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation, said that since 25 September 3000 Rohingyas, including women and children, have been killed, 56 villages have been burned down and 200,000 people displaced.
“We are here to protest the ongoing genocide in Burma,” he said.
Habib said this was the latest in the periodic bursts of intense persecution against the Rohingya, which is a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority that lives in the Rakhine State in western Myanmar and has been denied citizenship since 1982.
Habib said this latest crackdown by Myanmar military aided by local sectarian Buddhist militias was being conducted under the pretence of fighting Rohingya rebels.
“The government is targeting civilians in an attempt to cleanse the population,” Mr Habib said.
“The aim is to clean out the Rohingya population, push them into Bangladeshi territory.”
Mr Habib said that government forces and allies had cut off food and other essential supplies to the Rohingyas and committed mass lootings and rapes to provoke conflict.
He claimed provocateurs from other ethnic groups had posed as Rohingya to incite and commit violence and discredit the minority.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who is unofficial leader of Myanmar, has called such claims “misinformation” spread by “terrorists”.
Mr Habib countered that, despite the nominal handover in Myanmar to civilian rule in 2011, “the military was still in power”.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is covering up crimes committed by the military,” he said.
Mr Habib called on Australia to put pressure on Myanmar’s government to end the persecution of the Rohingyas through the United Nations.
“We want Australia to take a solid stance and push for affirmative action on Burma and the Burmese government,” he said.
In 2013 the UN called the Rohingya one of the most persecuted minorities in the world with UN officials labelling their treatment as “ethnic cleansing”.
There are up to half a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh where they are also denied citizenship with the Bangladeshi government calling on Myanmar to repatriate them.
In May 2015 Crosslight covered the plight of Rohingya refugees who had fled by boat only to be denied entry to surrounding countries and often falling into the hand of human traffickers.