By Robert Cook
A flash appears in the distance, evidence of another village burning, a place where people lived and loved, now obliterated. Every day in Ukraine and Myanmar, families watch their worlds shatter as they are forced to leave home. In the midst of this horror, a stark contradiction exists: for every Ukrainian welcomed into a new land, Rohingya people fend for themselves. This injustice is one of many that Rohingya suffer while the world promises change. Unfortunately, the reality is that some human lives and crises are prioritized over others based on ethnicity and salience to affluent societies. As the looming climate crisis causes water levels to rise, we must stop letting racism get in the way of humanity, lifting everyone instead of leaving some to sink while helping those who look like us to swim.
Foremost, we must listen to the stories of Rohingya and recognize their plight. Take Mayyu Ali, forced to flee when the Burmese military burned his village: Mayyu’s new “home” is a camp in Bangladesh lacking “safe and secure shelters, formal education centers...water supply and sanitation” (Ali). Mudslides caused by monsoons hint at the devastation climate change will bring to marginalized groups like Rohingya (Displaced). Feeling abandoned, Mayyu is losing hope believing “there can’t be a sustainable revolution for Rohingya until there are enough sympathetic hearts to stand with [them]” (Ali). Unfortunately, empathy is absent. As one volunteer states, “it’s quite heartbreaking to be here…much of the world doesn’t know or doesn’t care” (Displaced). The US has contributed $1.7 billion, but it is not enough (Office of Press Relations). Western governments must provide more political and economic support.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the West has taken decisive steps to help. For example, the EU “quickly granted Ukrainians fleeing…the right to stay and work…for up to three years,” while also allowing them “to put their children in school” (Hickson). Additionally, the US earmarked Ukraine $40 billion in assistance (Snell). This support is so robust because Ukraine is geographically proximate to the West, and its inhabitants are ethnically similar to western Europeans. Additionally, Ukraine faces a larger threat to the Western world in Russia, so a strong response is strategically important to show a united front.
Even though Ukraine may be more salient to the West, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Rohingya like Mayyu are suffering. While Ukrainians receive legal protections like schooling for their children, Rohingya are caught in a struggle between two countries fighting not to claim them as citizens (Reid). Even though Rohingya are no less human, Ukraine has received more than twentyfold the funding. If we don’t address what’s happening in plain sight, what will happen when the climate crisis, silent but deadly, escalates?
We must recognize and aid Mayyu and the Rohingya with the same force and enthusiasm as we have assisted the Ukrainians. With the climate crisis to displace millions, we have a responsibility to help all our neighbors without prejudice. Climate doesn’t discriminate; neither should we.
Ali, Mayyu. "A Rohingya Refugee Describes His Flight from Violence in Myanmar." Interview by Daniel Sullivan and Francisca Vigaud-Walsh. Refugees International, 7 May 2018,
https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/interviewwithrohingyarefugee. Accessed 18 June 2022.
Displaced. Narrated by Greta Van Susteren, 2018. Voice of America,
www.voanews.com/a/voa-documentary-displaced/4697030.html. Accessed 18 June
2022. Hickson, Alice. "Addressing the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis." Newslines Institute for Strategy and Policy, 4 May 2022,
newlinesinstitute.org/ukraine/addressing-the-ukrainian-refugee-crisis/. Accessed 18 June 2022.
Office of Press Relations. "The United States Announces More than 152 Million in Additional Humanitarian Assistance for the People of Burma and Bangladesh." US Aid, Mar. 2022,
Reid, Kathryn. "Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Facts, FAQs, and How to Help." World Vision, 25 Mar. 2021,
www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/rohingya-refugees-bangladesh-facts. Accessed 21 June 2022.
Snell, Kelsey. "Biden Signs a $40 Billion Aid Package to Help Ukraine Fight off the Russian Invasion." NPR, 21 May 2022,
www.npr.org/2022/05/10/1097883083/how-the-u-s-aid-to-ukraine-is-taking-shape. Accessed 18 June 2022.