Cooking utensils outside a burnt house at Myo Thu Gyi village near Maungdaw in Rakhine State, Myanmar, on Aug 31. (Inset) Rohingya refugees reaching out for food aid at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border on Aug 30. AFP PIX

AZAR washes cars every day at one of the many car wash outlets in the city. He’s been doing this for the last few months, doing his work quietly with his friends.

I’ve been observing him the last couple of times I took my car there. He never stands still. Always working. If there are no cars to wash, he would sweep the floor or do something useful.

The outlet is owned by a tyre dealer but he outsourced it to whoever offers a good rental. It’s quite common to see car wash teams operating next or near a tyre shop.

Once, I complained to the owner of the tyre shop that the car wasn’t properly cleaned.

He said: “Aiya, these people come and go as they like. They work here two to three months, and then leave.

“Other people fill in for them. Then they also leave. But there will always be someone from the old team to give continuity to their operations.

“Sorrylah boss. Next time, you bring your car here, I’ll get them to wash it free. These people are not local and they just work for the money. They don’t care about customer satisfaction.”

I asked Chin, the tyre dealer, where he picked up the car washers.

“They are from everywhere. Once, I had a team from Indonesia. This present one is from Myanmar. They work hard but many of them change jobs after one or two months.”

I later found out that these workers move around because they get better offers. It may be RM30 or RM40 more, but that’s enough for them to move to other locations.

I had asked them whether they were Rohingya. One or two said they were, but the rest just clamped their mouths and went about doing their job quietly.

I had met a few of them at seminars and forums on Rohingya. Local non-governmental organisations often organise forums and even international conferences to help resolve the Rohingya issue.

Despite resolutions and vocal protests coming from these forums and conferences, the wanton killing of the Rohingya goes on unabated and unchallenged.

Social media is full of video clips and photographs, said to be of Rohingya being killed, often in the most cruel ways.

Rows of burnt bodies said to be of Rohingya, have made their rounds in the last few weeks.

It is difficult not to believe these reports. Many are not disputed, lending credence to the claims that they are indeed brutal killings of innocent men, women and children.

Stories of rape and torture are aplenty. Across the world, one hears calls for an end to the killings.

The Rohingya fled Rakhine State in Myanmar following these killings and the destruction of their homes and properties.

An estimated 270,000 Rohingya had sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh in the past two weeks, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Wire reports quoted UNHCR Asia Pacific spokesman Duniya Aslam Khan as saying: “It is of utmost urgency to address the root causes of the recent surge in violence so that people are no longer compelled to flee and can eventually return home safely.”

I’m not so optimistic that those who have fled their homes would return. The violence against the Rohingya is not new. The killings, torture and rape have been going on for years, if reports from the refugee camps are to be believed.

The United States, often potraying itself as the world’s conscience, has voiced concern over the killings. But, we all know that action speaks louder than words.

It’s the same with the United Nations, too. Expressions of concern and plea for an end to the violence have largely fallen on deaf ears. I bet you nothing much will happen until and unless the rest of the world speaks out and demand action.

Lest everyone misses the point, such angry displacement of people such as the Rohingya can be easy pickings for world terrorist groups. A south Asian analyst warned of this last week.

The Rohingya situation could become a “lightning rod” and a recruiting tool for foreign militants. There may be no clear evidence of this so far, but it may be just a matter of time before we see and hear evidence of this.

What can you and I do? We can talk about these killings and cruelty (many have started calling it as ethnic cleansing and genocide) till the cows come home. But it won’t change the visuals of the dead, both on land and at sea.

We need to do a few things: understand the plight of the Rohingya, donate to the various funds set up to help the Rohingya refugees and write to world leaders demanding concrete action to end the violence.

An open letter by anti-apartheid social activist Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to Aung San Su Kyi caught everyone’s eyes. Excerpts: “In my heart, you are a dearly beloved younger sister. For years, I have a picture of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people.

“You symbolised righteousness…

“My dear sister: if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country.

“As we witness the unfolding horror, we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again. We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people,” Tutu said.
Twitter: @aatpahitmanis

Ahmad a Talib is chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia.

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