The Rohingya people of Arakan

The Rohingya people of Arakan

Olivera Hinić

Focus Summary

During my field research, I visited Bangladesh, Malaysia and Myanmar with a purpose beyond just witnessing or reporting on the atrocities that are committed against them. I wanted to meet and converse with people that have rarely gotten the chance to share their story, their personal views and hopes for the future, and then be able to share these voices with the people interested in learning more.

I explored the notion of education, since I viewed it as a protective factor. It rarely protected them from hard labour, but it often served as a shield against depression and further traumatization.

Educational opportunities are scarce for the Rohingya and there is an urgency for even basic education. In order to improve this, there needs to be an open dialogue about trauma and its consequences, and how it influences the community.

Confidence coming from education is what helps shape identities and reinforces the trust within the community. In the hope for a permanent solution, it is pertinent to consider the new generations growing up in exile, without these kinds of opportunities.

Key Insights

  • It’s been debated a lot, what steps are necessary to take in order to start solving the Rohingya crisis that’s been going on for decades. There is definitely a lack of a solution offered by the community leaders, as they are unable to agree on many moral and practical questions.
  • There is a generational gap and obviously a geographical scattering that contributes to that, but the division is not only physical and geographical. There is also a certain emotional and psychological gap inside the community.
  • Contrary to my first impressions, there is very little unity among the Rohingya abroad, and a lot of it is rooted in mistrust. The crippling and contagious issue of mistrust is born in instances of trauma, whether it be abandonment by your own government, sectarian violence or the almost innate fear of any authority figure.
  • Education could be the key in prevention and healing of trauma. Therefore, what can and should be done for the Rohingya immediately? Allowing them access to education anywhere they are residing, and especially in host countries should serve as a good example and an act of good will that can go a long way.

Key take-outs from the ISHHR 2017 Conference (industry feedback, networking, peer presentations):

I received many comments wishing to expand on recommendations and immediate solutions, given that the new wave of violence – the worst one so far – has struck the northern Rakhine State.

It was interesting and very rewarding to discuss this topic with professionals in Serbia, given that the media barely covers a crisis so far away from us. An educational psychologist who shared a panel with me found it interesting how I insisted on education’s role in preventing and healing trauma. It sparked a great conversation and inspired further research for us both.

Very important feedback came from Shaun Némorin, who gradually became a mentor for my master’s thesis on the Rohingya and whose guidance really pushed me in the right direction. At the conference, he encouraged me to talk more about the people I’ve met and what I’ve discovered about them, which is something rarely found in the news.

Future goals — what’s next?

I’m currently in a transition, about to re-establish myself in Europe. I plan on focusing all my efforts on translating the previously acquired skills into the needs of my birth continent, hopefully by working on psychosocial healing of refugees and culturally sensitive integration.

How can local / national / international media better assist in bringing the vital issues discussed at ISHHR 2017 to light, and further encourage real, positive change and understanding?

The question of mistrust and community fragmentation due to psychological trauma is extremely important, and it is something completely overlooked by traditional media. It is necessary to focus our attention on possibilities, solutions and something that can be done that has a longer impact for the community.

I would like to emphasize the need for continuous empowerment of the community and redefining an image of a refuge from a victim to a resilient survivor and fighter.

Undoubtedly, raising awareness and funding is necessary and, in some cases, essential, but alone it is ultimately insufficient. It may relieve the immediate suffering of refugees, but it does little to restore their dignity, or to break the chain of poverty and fight the hopelessness that comes from rigorously limited rights and freedoms.