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U.S. Bishops Chairman Calls on U.S. Government to work with Burma, Bangladesh, and the International Community to Address Burma Refugee Crisis for Religious Minority

October 6, 2017

Washington—Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, submitted written testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for a hearing on October 5, 2017, entitled "The Rohingya Crisis: U.S. Response to the Tragedy in Burma." The hearing addressed the U.S. government response to the plight of a Muslim religious minority from Rakhine State, Burma, known as the Rohingya.

In part of his testimony, Bishop Vásquez states, "We turn now to the grim situation of those forced to flee from Rakhine State, Burma. Forced out by what the Burmese military reportedly has referred to as a 'clearance campaign,' an estimated 501,000 people have fled from Rakhine State, Burma, to Bangladesh since August 25, 2017. Most are women and children, and the most vulnerable are newborns, pregnant women, and the elderly. Many have only makeshift shelters at best, are struggling to find the mere basics of life, and are trying to avoid debilitating and life-threatening waterborne and airborne diseases. They are all in our thoughts and prayers as the Catholic Church joins with others to mobilize in response to the horrific situation."

The most recent violence is part of an historical pattern of persecution against the Muslim minority in Rakhine State, and also continues against other religious and ethnic minorities, such as a Christian ethnic minority group in Kachin State, Burma. While such persecution has lessened in recent years with democratic elections, the Burmese military still maintains substantial political power and economic control. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, human rights icon and the major democratic leader in Burma, has not been very vocal about the plight of those fleeing Rakhine State, but she has played a major role in changing the day-to-day life for her people and continues to lead a major peacebuilding effort with ethnic groups in Burma known as the Panglong Process to build a viable democratic federal system.

"As we shed light on the human rights tragedies in Burma, we urge continued U.S. support to resolve these critical situations and to support the democratically elected government in addressing these situations while also supporting their broader efforts to build a new, democratic, inclusive Burma," notes Bishop Vásquez.  

Bishop Vásquez's full testimony can be found at:

Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, Committee on Migration, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rohingya, Rakhine State, Burma, Bangladesh, refugee crisis, Muslim minority, Kachin State, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Panglong Process, refugee, protection, durable solutions.


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