The Rohingya people face persecution not only from the government of Myanmar but also from the Bangladeshi government, which had taken them in as refugees of an ethnic cleansing.  Beginning in August 2017, Bangladesh took in more than 900,000 Rohingya Muslims (of about 1 million previously living in Myanmar).  Myanmar and Bangladesh have made attempts at repatriation deals, but most Rohingya people have been reluctant to return, fearing further persecution.

With about 730,000 Rohingya Muslims living in Bangladesh, in February, Bangladesh announced that it would move about 100,000 to a hurricane-prone island in the Bay of Bengal and would no longer take in refugees.  The people on the island would not be allowed to leave the island except to return to Myanmar and would not be given state ID cards or passports. While the plan has still not been put into effect, Bangladesh remains committed to it.  In September, Bangladesh imposed limits on cell service and aid entering the camp.  All of these schemes amount to human rights violations which warrant escape.

Unfortunately, many of these refugees have nowhere to turn to.  The United States currently makes it very difficult for the Rohingya people to get asylum.  On Sept. 26, the refugee cap was further cut to 18,000 people.  The Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement, or GRACE, Act (H.R. 2146) would make it easier to get asylum not only by increasing the cap but by allowing people who need “resettlement in a third country.”  This is crucial because living in Bangladesh would currently disqualify people from refugee status, despite the increasing human rights violations in Bangladesh and the lack of any permanent plan to integrate nearly a million people into the country.

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Ethnic cleansing should never be tolerated, and when it happens, it is imperative that the rest of the world support the victims.  Bangladesh was one of the only countries available when the Rohingya people needed immediate refuge, but it has failed to protect them.  Now, the United States must take its place as a world leader to help the Rohingya people. It takes very little effort on our part to remove people from situations in which their rights are being violated.  All we have to do is make a little room for them in our communities.

Union County saw an influx of Syrian refugees in 2015, and these refugees have quickly become integrated into the community.  They are families of people who, like all other residents of New Jersey, want to have safety and stability. Representative Tom Malinowski must co-sponsor the GRACE Act to help the Rohingya people in the same way that his constituency has helped refugees in the past.

Mira Mehta
Westfield, NJ