Umar Mohamad Arif is one of the many Rohingyan refugees now living in Salt Lake County. Even though his family has had seven generations living in Myanmar, formerly Burma, the country does not identify him as a citizen. He was not allowed to travel or get an education and was persecuted because of his religious beliefs.
“I did not feel like a human being,” Arif said. “An animal or a dog can travel anywhere, but we feel like we are worse than that.”
He fled on foot and traveled 70 days crossing the mountains, sleeping on the ground and eating whatever food he could find. After living in refugee camps in Malaysia, he was able to come to Utah in 2013. “I feel safe in Utah,” Arif said. “Since I came to the United States I feel like a real human being.”
This April, many of us have commemorated or will commemorate holidays reminding us of loss and renewal. We recently marked Easter and Passover. Easter is when Christians reflect about death, resurrection and reconciliation. During Passover, we remember how the Jews were liberated from slavery in Egypt.
On April 12, we commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day is set aside every year so we never forget the 6 million Jews and 6 million others who were killed under the Nazi regime because of their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or physical disabilities. Along with remembering the victims of this genocide, we — as a community — pledge, “Never Again.”
Yet once again we are seeing large-scale crimes against humanity. During the past year, more than 700,000 Rohingyans, nearly half of the Rohingya population, have been forced to flee Myanmar. They are escaping from systematic and widespread murders, rapes, expulsions and mass burnings of villages.
This ethnic cleansing is being carried out against a mostly Muslim minority group living in a predominantly Buddhist country. The government considers the Rohingyans illegal immigrants and is denying them citizenship and the right to vote and is placing restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice and freedom of movement.
Arif says these refugees are still suffering trauma and fear. During this season of remembrance and renewal, I stand with Arif and encourage Utahns to open up their hearts and volunteer with the numerous organizations helping refugees from this modern-day genocide. More than 65,000 refugees live in Salt Lake County, including 200 Rohingyans and 500 other refugees from Myanmar belonging to other ethnic groups.
On April 4, we also marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”15 comments on this story
We can help stop the injustice taking place in Myanmar by asking Utah’s congressional representatives to support the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act. This legislation imposes sanctions on government leaders responsible for human rights atrocities against the Rohingya people. The bill also provides humanitarian aid to refugees from the region.
Those interested in volunteering or writing congressional leaders can find more information at slcgov.com/volunteer/refugee-volunteer-programs.
We all have a chance as individuals to make a real difference for the refugees from Myanmar living in Utah and abroad. Please step forward and help stop this injustice with the firm resolve of “Never Again.”