Toddler’s Death Highlights Plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Refugees

Face down in the mud, chubby arms in a water-soaked yellow T-shirt, feet tucked in — this image of a 16-month-old Rohingya baby circulating on social media delivers an unforgettably poignant message.

Mohammed Shohayet died trying to escape the country he was born in.

Zafor Alam, the father of Shohayet who died when his family fled Myanmar’s violence, wants the world to know his son’s story.

“When I see the picture, I feel like I would rather die,” the father told CNN.

The photo of Mohammed is being compared to that of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who was found dead on a Turkish beach in 2015, after a boat carrying his family to Europe capsized.

Kurdi’s image did much to draw the world’s attention to the Syrian refugee crisis, and Alam hopes his son’s photo will likewise galvanize the world to address the Rohingya crisis.

He also hopes it will pressure Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, to address reports of state-sanctioned violence against Rohingya villages in Rakhine state.

Many Rohingya, who number about one million, have lived in Myanmar for generations, but many in the country’s Buddhist majority consider them illegal immigrants, and Suu Kyi has seemed largely indifferent to their plight since her party won landmark elections last March.

Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and earned international praise in the West for her pro-democracy activism as a political prisoner, has done little to halt, or even acknowledge, violence against the Rohingya.

Last June, she told the United Nations her government will avoid using the term “Rohingya,” continuing the previous military government’s policy of using the term “Bengalis,” which implies the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi is not Burma’s president — she is its foreign minister — but she is widely considered the country’s true leader, although the military still wields some power, The Star reported.

More than a dozen fellow Nobel laureates recently wrote an open letter to the UN Security Council calling on Suu Kyi to halt the bloody crackdown, warning of a tragedy “amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

According to the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry, about 50,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled and taken shelter in Bangladesh since October.

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