Last month I was in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (photo), in the camps of that are now home to almost three-quarters of a million Rohingya refugees, driven from their homes by the government of their own country. Those camps will now, due to the monsoon rains, look like a First World War battlefield, a quagmire of mud in which people have already died.
But it is not just the Rohingya who have to endure shocking cruelty at the hands of their own compatriots. Earlier this week I met a team in Yangon who run a small charity helping to rehabilitate some startlingly young women and girls who have managed to escape from the appalling violence of the Myanmar sex industry. In this industry they were traded like joints of meat in the backstreets of Yangon, or across the border into forced marriages in China. (You can find out more about this project, and support their work, including through the purchase of some lovely jewellery made by the women and girls in the project, by following this link.)
Dreadful as their experiences were, these were the lucky ones. Hundreds of thousands of other Myanmar nationals suffer other forms of slavery, in dozens of other industries across their own country and the rest of South East Asia with, currently, little hope of escape.
The Latin proverb, “man is wolf to man,” is true, but not the whole story. There are always those awkward people who are outraged at the abuse of other human beings, the sort of people who refuse to go along with a hate-filled consensus, who cannot but feel empathy with the oppressed and the marginalised, who speak out when others remain silent and who act to build a better world when others acquiesce in the dehumanisation and enslavement of the vulnerable. As Sophia says in The Undiscovered Country: “Moral outrage is a particular type of courage, and that sort of courage can eventually become contagious. And that… is what ultimately changes the world for the better.”
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