By Joe LaGuardia
For all of its bad ratings, the movie Waterworld with Kevin Costner had a creative premise.
Costner plays the Mariner who fights for survival within a (literal) sea of villains and mercenaries. The story takes place in the near future, when melting polar ice caps result in all of earth’s existing land being covered by water.
What might life be like at sea for that length of time? Just ask one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.
The Rohingya represents an ethnic minority group who migrated to Myanmar around the eighth century. Through a history of infighting, war, and eventual persecution, this small group found itself without any place to settle within a nation made up of 90% Buddhists.
The Myanmar government denied them citizenship in the 1990s, and conflicts came to a head in 2012 when ethnic violence erupted between Muslim and Buddhist gangs in the Rakhine province.
Since then, Buddhist nationalists have incited further violence against the Rohingya, forcing the group to live in ghettos or refugee camps.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled the country on makeshift boats, while others sought refuge with human smugglers.
Nearly 25,000 people made it safely to other countries; an undocumented number of people have been kidnapped into human trafficking rings (139 graves containing refugees were found, believed to be the result of smugglers killing people that families could not afford to ransom).
Nearly 1,000 refugees have settled in the United States since 2006, according to NPR.
Recent voyages from Myanmar’s coast have not been so fortunate. Many countries, including those that are majority Muslim in the region, want nothing to do with the refugees. A reported 3000 – 6000 people are currently stranded at sea with no place to go.
Some reports claim that United Nations humanitarian aid is on its way; but, like a scene right out of Waterworld, many refugees are running out of food and water. The U. S. State Department is encouraging Myanmar to grant citizenship and access to food, shelter, and water to remaining Rohingya people groups.
The migration to surrounding nations is only the beginning of a threat they fear will worsen: Government officials in New Dehli surmise that the combination of persecution and poverty make the Rohingya people prime candidates for radical terrorist recruitment.
As Baptist minister without a political science degree, I do not have answers, but I do agree with this assessment.
Earlier this year, Trinity Baptist Church hosted an interfaith dialogue with a Muslim activist, Kemal Korucu, who stated that terrorists, no matter the religion, are not born but bred. The poor, uneducated, and displaced are susceptible to aggressive recruitment strategies perpetuated by ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terrorist organizations.
The Rohingya fit this caricature. As people without citizenship, Rohingya children have been denied formal education.
Poverty is an every-day reality that many U. S. citizens cannot comprehend. And lack of “place”– no more pronounced than ever as some are abandoned at sea — will only lead to people trying to find belonging.
If countries cannot band together to save these people now, I fear that young Rohingya men in particular will find belonging with our nation’s fiercest enemies rather than with friends.
For a people so far removed from this conflict, we cannot do much in turning the political tides of this crisis, but we can pray that governments and agencies will aid these lost people. Pray that humanitarian relief efforts will meet those in need.
We can also pray for our missionaries who are laying deep roots in changing hearts for Christ, that many will not become susceptible to terrorism but, rather, bear witness to the Gospel that has the power to change all our lives for the better.