The other day I caught the second half of a catchy song. These lyrics caught my attention:
My heart is breaking for my sister and the con that she called “love”
But when I look into my nephew’s eyes,
Man you wouldn’t believe, the most amazing things, that can come from
Some terrible nights…
Many of us are now connected to stories like this. Perhaps we know someone who has a backstory of ‘terrible nights,’ even ones that resulted in ‘amazing things,’ such as children that we couldn’t imagine life without. This line was still reverberating in my mind while I read about the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh. Refugees are people who have many ‘terrible nights’ behind them. Often these terrible nights carry on for years. They may escape from violence and the threat of more violence in the place that was their home. And yet this escape is often just a waystation as they pass into a new phase of barriers and sometimes ongoing threats in a different location.
The Rohingya and Rakhine people are no exception. They have experienced ruinous violence and genocide, displacement, and sexual and gender violence at the hand of the Myanmar police and military. In the first months of the acute conflict, more than 6700 Rohingya were killed. More than 730 of them were children under five years old. Some tenuously remain in Burma, but most Rohingya survivors now live in ‘camps’ in Bangladesh—several of them packed with hundreds of thousands of people.
The Rohingyas and Rakhine are one of the largest groups of refugees in the world today. Of the approximately 68 million refugees in the world today 85% are hosted by less developed countries than the USA, more than 5 million are hosted by Turkey, Uganda, and Bangladesh. 50% of the refugees are children. Since 2015, more than 700,000 Rohingyas have been displaced from Myanmar with increasing violence. Many of them are pregnant with the children of their persecutors, victims of war crimes—military and systematic rape, gang rape, and shocking genocidal and sexual violence.
According to an informal estimate from a relief worker on the ground in Bangladesh, presently about 20% of the population is pregnant or just gave birth, which amounts roughly to 200,000 babies. It’s difficult to know how many women and girls are pregnant with children conceived as a result of rapes. Thousands of women and girls have been treated medically on account of sexual violence against them. As is always the case, if this many have been treated, how many more were never reported or treated on account of the associated shames and fears?
Sometimes rape pregnancies are aborted by one means or another. Some girls died trying to avoid birth, inflicting further violence against themselves with rustic abortions. Some children of rape are discarded into garbage bins. Some are raised by women, girls, and families overburdened with shame and the feeling that they are caring for a child that does not belong.
Obviously multifarious challenges and complexities exist in the context of a fast-growing population of more than one million people. These are people who are displaced, traumatized, impoverished, bored, crammed, denied education, with thousands of orphans, no national legal status as individuals, no place to raise food, not enough water, etc. Furthermore, Bangladesh (a poor nation with around 1400USD per capita income), is in a difficult situation as host for these refugees. The Bangladeshi government is considering fencing the camps to keep refugees inside the camps. Hopefully, this will not happen as it violates human rights and ‘freedom of movement’ for refugees according to international law. In many ways, this entire situation is an extended ‘terrible night.’ The Rohingya refugees are people with no place to go and no place to be, and no belonging in this world that they can call their own. What experiences will the new generations of Rohingya people growing up in these camps have of this world?
It’s hard to be hopeful when looking at this situation. Yet the gospel holds out hope for people who were once not a people to become God’s people. The gospel holds out hope for people who lived in the darkness of night to be called into God’s marvelous light. The gospel holds out the hope that this emerging culture, although it was forced with evil intent from its homeland, can be restored by God for good.
My prayer for them and their children, and perhaps especially the children of rape born among them, is that they become a generation of nephew’s eyes, and the most amazing things, even though they have come from some terrible nights. A new culture is emerging among the Rohingya people. Let’s pray also that these children become one generation, and no further isolation is doled out on the mothers, families, and children of mixed-race—children of rape, children of oppressors, violence, and genocide. Lord Jesus, raise up amazing things and people from these terrible nights.
Sources Accessed on 5 and 6 December 2019:
World Renew Donation page for the Rohingya crisis:
Doctors without Borders—Rohingya
Journal of Global Health| Health Risks of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh
Sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar and the gendered impact of its ethnic conflictshttps://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/FFM-Myanmar/sexualviolence/A_HRC_CRP_4.pdf
Global Conflict Tracker
Sexual Violence Documentation
The Refugee Project
Action Against Hunger
The Center for Victims of Torture
SOS Childrens Villages