More than 600,000 members of the Rohingya ethnic group have fled their native Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh since the end of August. In response to the growing humanitarian crisis, administrators of the Institute of Genocide and Mass Atrocities Prevention (I-GMAP) at Binghamton University hosted a documentary screening and discussion on Tuesday evening.
The film shed light on the challenges facing the Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim, who have historically lived in the Buddhist nation of Myanmar.
The Institute’s two co-directors — Max Pensky, a professor in the philosophy department, and Nadia Rubaii, associate professor in the department of public administration — prefaced the screening with background information on the current Rohingya crisis. Many attacks have been issued against the Rohingya in recent years, they said, by the Myanmar military. This has led to widespread displacement despite the Rohingya’s quiet oppression. Their rights have been severely restricted, making them ineligible to work legally, travel between villages, vote and access education and medical care, Pensky and Rubaii said.
Attendees viewed the short documentary “Sittwe,” directed by U.S. filmmaker Jeanne Hallacy, which follows two teenagers and shows the Muslim-Buddhist division in Myanmar and how it has caused mass suffering for both sides.
Lauren Singer, an undeclared freshman, said the documentary left her surprised.
“You hear about these things all the time, but hearing the perspectives straight from the people who are experiencing the oppression leaves me with chills,” Singer said.
The documentary was followed by an interactive discussion led by guest speakers Adem Carroll, the director of the New York Office of the Burma Task Force, and Htay Lwin Oo, a human rights defender for the Rohingya and native to the state of Rakhine in Myanmar. The pair guided students in examining the many facets of the crisis, including how the refugee crisis was sparked by the Rohingya’s displacement to neighboring countries. Potential solutions to the crisis were also considered, including ways to bring the two religious groups together and engage New Yorkers in the issue.
“Being far away doesn’t change anything,” Carroll said. “Even though there aren’t a significant amount of Rohingya in New York, there are still refugees who know oppression. Students here are aware of the culture, and if they are aware of the situation they can reach out to at least change their own country.”
Carroll’s nonprofit organization promotes the responsibility to protect and respond to situations such as the Rohingya crisis. Carroll said that through this event, he hoped to connect with other professionals and to collaborate with their expertise in order to deepen their analysis in hopes of pushing it to the United Nations. According to I-GMAP administrators, the situation in Myanmar won’t change unless an entity like the United Nations facilitates that change.
Rebecca Sirochinsky, a sophomore majoring in nursing, said the event made her question the lack of public attention toward the Rohingya crisis.
“The event piqued my interest because it was about a certain situation I had never heard of,” Sirochinsky said. “After attending, I feel bad about how little attention something like this gets in the United States.”