*I wrote this back in October, I struggled to decide if I should post it so it has sat on my computer since then. I looked back at the piece the other day and wondered if it was even still relevant. Yes, it is. This genocide is still going on. It is estimated that over 7,000 people have died in this conflict.*
I’ve been dreaming of going to Myanmar for the last year and a half. All those beautiful pagodas, an untouched fairly undeveloped country, one totally different than the countries surrounding it? Ya, that’s right up my alley. Yet, in light of the media’s sudden attention to the Rohingya people, I couldn’t justify my trip.
Who are the Rohingya? (The short version)
The Rohingya are about 1.1 million Muslims who live in Buddhist majority Myanmar. These people were once immigrates from India and Bangladesh when Myanmar was still a part of India. Once Myanmar gained independence in 1948, they were not recognized as citizens and have basically been persecuted ever since. This information was pulled from Aljazeera (click here for the longer, more explained version)
Why are they important?
Well, they’re important because they’re people! Duh! But if you want more than that: In 2013, the Human Rights Watch claimed that Myanmar was conducting ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya (ya, like the Holocaust or the Khmer Rouge). Over half a million refugees have fled to Bangladesh (illegally according to their government) and others to Malaysia. The Myanmar government continues to refute all claims of any such genocide. Although persecution of the Rohingya has been going on for years, coverage of the violence has increased over the last few months as videos have been shared on social media of villages burning down and because of increased involvement of the UN.
With the coverage has come massive denial by the Burmese government. The country’s Social Welfare Minster claims that Muslims are killing other Muslims and that the Burmese military isn’t involved. An administrator in a town outside of Yangon is quoted saying that he is happy to see “Muslim-free villages” because Muslims are “violent;” he then admits he’s never met a Muslim but is thankful for “Facebook for giving [him] the true information in Myanmar.” What?!? AH! (Citation from the New York Times)
How does this affect tourism?
In most respects, it hasn’t affected tourism, mainly because up until recently not many people knew what was happening in Myanmar
Myanmar as a whole is already off the beaten path and the Rohingya live off the typical tourist path within the often overlooked country. So overall the tourist areas are completely safe. The U.S. hasn’t even put out a travel advisory. There’s no reason why you couldn’t go and not even know that this was going on in a different part of the country.
So why not go?
Since the Rohingya have been getting more press within the last few months, my mom brought up to me that it wouldn’t be safe to go there. Really, safety is not the issue (as said above) but since the persecution has even reached the very selective western media, I decided I needed to do some research, specifically looking for where my money would go if I were to visit the country.
Obviously, my 50 USD visa fee would go straight to the government that is denying that there’s even a problem in their country. But what about the other fees I’d pay? As it turns out and as I suspected, the entrance fees collected while visiting Myanmar’s beautiful temples also goes to the government.
90% of 25,000 Kyat (18 USD) fee to see the temples of Bagan goes into the state budget while only 2% goes towards conservation of the site. These percentages are similar across most of the temple sites Myanmar. Overall, the Bagan site alone brought in 4 million USD in 2015 (which was a price increase in 2016). This money goes to a government I cannot support. So I decided I wouldn’t spend my money there. (Taken from the Myanmar Times)
I don’t pretend to be the most aware traveler ever. I have visited somewhat sketchy elephant “sanctuaries;” I went to the Philippines during the ISIS takeover in Marawi. But I think this is my line. I don’t think I could look back on this trip later and be ok with my decision to go anyway. One day I will visit, preferably when the full truth about the Rohingya comes out.
Also, please don’t just take my word for it. I’ve tried my best to site my sources above and I’m also linking to an article in the Telegraph that completely argues against me, saying that “avoiding travel to Burma does not achieve anything and can in fact be to the detriment of the country as a whole.” This is just my opinion based on the facts that I have found.