Burma’s Rohingyas: how journalism really can make a difference
A few weeks ago, an American “careers website” called CareerCast.com ranked 200 professions in an effort to determine the world’s best job. Actuaries came first – they’re office-bound mathematicians who determine statistical risk for insurance companies. The ignominious honour of bottom spot went to reporters, who managed to edge out lumberjacks with lowest scores for working hours, job stress, and future prospects.
The journalism profession may be going through a rough patch at the moment – an explosion of providers in digital media has dealt a terrible blow – but the folks at CareerCast used a pretty limited set of criteria. Responsible journalism is a critical part of any healthy democracy – and sometimes, yes sometimes – it actually makes a difference.
Yesterday I got an email from an aide at the European Parliament. They had watched a report that my cameraman Matt Jasper and I filmed two weeks ago in a Thai town called Phang Nga (see below). We found hundreds of Muslim men from Burma stuffed into metal cages in the town’s detention centre. The majority are from a minority group called the Rohingya and they fled their homes after hostilities with the Buddhist majority in that country last year.
After watching our report, European parliamentarians inserted the following clause into an urgent resolution on the Rohingya situation. I am told that the Thai government tried to get it taken out – but they failed to do so. The resolution – along with the following paragraph – was passed in Stasbourg on Thursday afternoon.
7. Calls on the Government of Thailand to end immediately the inhumane detention of at least 1700 Rohingya asylum seekers and to provide them with access to UN refugee agencies; regrets the fact that the government of Thailand has so far failed to permit the UNHCR to conduct refugee status determination screenings of Rohingya asylum seekers.
And today, we’ve learnt that the EU’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department (ECHO) has pledged 200,000 euros to help alleviate overcrowding and filthy conditions in these centres.
It’s a good decision – but it should come as something of an embarrassment to the Thai government. Thailand is a relatively prosperous nation – it has the resources to look after several thousand refugees from Burma. So far, however, politicians and bureaucrats have lacked the will and requisite compassion.
There’s more journalism required then – more bottom-ranked reporters with their proverbial torches, searching for society’s dark spots. I would have made a hopeless actuary anyway.
PS: we have just been sent this from MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, vice president of the European Parliament, who is responsible for democracy and human rights.
“The UN classes the Rohingya Muslims as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Channel 4′s exposure of the Thai Government’s shocking mistreatment of the Rohingya in immigration detention centres is the latest in a long litany of abuses this minority has suffered.
“Yesterday, I co-sponsored a European Parliament resolution urging EU action. Today, the EU has released 200,000 euros of aid to help Rohingya men at detention centres and Rohingya women and children at social welfare facilities. Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament are planning a letter to the Thai prime minister to further maintain the spotlight on this unacceptable situation.
“The EU’s rapid and coordinated response shows that the protection of human rights remains a top priority, even well beyond the union’s borders.”
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