Tropical birds chirp in the background as I listen to Tin*, who is speaking to me over skype from halfway around the world. We are talking about the Rohingya crisis, something which has dominated news headlines for many months, and which he is an expert on. With Prospect Burma’s support, Tin undertook a Master’s of Human Rights at Mahidol University, focussing his studies on the then-burgeoning Rohingya issue. His subsequent application to study a PhD, specifically about the Rohingya crisis, was rejected by the university, on the grounds Tin believes that “they couldn’t understand what was at stake.”
Today Tin is an expert in the Rohingya, and predicted the escalation of the Rohingya persecution to its current crisis over 4 years ago, but his reports and recommendations while initially welcomed, were subsequently ignored. He visited refugee camps where displaced people from Rakhine state were living, and experienced first-hand the horrific violence and acts of incredible cruelty, compiling video evidence of horrendous atrocities. He submitted reports and videos, he tells me, to officials in various countries, to western news organisations, and a number of diplomatic consulates. They all rejected what he was showing them. “They said it was fake footage”, he says.
Our conversation is shocking, heart-breaking, maddening and ultimately, unprintable. Tin is already in danger as a result of his involvement and work in the crisis. There have been two attempts on his life that he knows of, and he is currently living in exile abroad because of the danger he would be under living in Myanmar. He can only return to Myanmar occasionally, and then must be kept under the protection of a strict guard in a very specific part of the country. He is afraid for his family. The Rohingya crisis is teetering on a knife edge, and Tin’s involvement is too deep and too sensitive to be disclosed. When I ask what he thinks should now be done to fix the situation, he is not hopeful. His recommendations to prevent the current crisis were rejected he says; implementing them would have been the best option; finding a solution now that things have escalated to such a degree will be a long, unpredictable and hard won process. He is far from optimistic.
Tin still wishes to pursue a PhD in the subject, and will continue to do everything he can to help resolve the crisis. He still helps INGOs and international media companies on issues surrounding human rights violations. He believes that perhaps now, with the world’s media waking up to what is going on in Rakhine, he may find a university more open to his subject area. He asked if Prospect Burma would consider supporting his further studies. “Of course”, I tell him. It’s what we have always done. And it’s needed more than ever.
*Tin’s name has been changed to protect his identity.