WWD: Buyers Concerned Over 'Ethnic Cleansing' in Myanmar, Cambodia's 'Political Unrest'

November 6, 2017

By Dene-Hern Chen

 A family of Rohingya refugees walk through a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the Myanmar military started attacking the men, women and children of the ethnic minority group and razing their villages. (Credit: Verena Hoelzl)

A family of Rohingya refugees walk through a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the Myanmar military started attacking the men, women and children of the ethnic minority group and razing their villages. (Credit: Verena Hoelzl)

BANGKOK – The Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is of great concern to international apparel buyers, who believe that the “devastating” situation requires urgent attention from global organizations.

Since August, when attacks from an insurgent group triggered widespread retaliation from the Myanmar military, more than 600,000 Rohingya — a minority population widely discriminated by the Myanmar people — have fled the country for neighboring Bangladesh. A major sourcing destination for international buyers, the Bangladeshi government is now overwhelmed by the exodus of the Rohingyas, and is struggling to set up and equip refugee camps along the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border.

Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported evidence of systematic execution of civilians, brutal rapes of Rohingya women, and the razing of villages to chase out its residents. A top United Nations human rights official called the situation a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

While Myanmar’s apparel sector is nascent, it was set to take off due to the U.S. lifting sanctions last year. This move came following a democratic transition from Myanmar’s military regime to the current government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nate Herman, senior vice president of supply chain at the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said the situation in Myanmar is first and foremost a humanitarian concern that the association is taking very seriously.

“Reports of genocide or ethnic cleansing are very serious and will have implications beyond doing business in the country. The situation also threatens stability in another key supplier to the industry, Bangladesh, which is faced with the challenging of housing and feeding more than 500,000 Rohingya refugees that fled over the border from Myanmar,” Herman said in an e-mail, adding that the AAFA has been closely monitoring the situation and is in communication with its members and local contacts.

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