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In honor of Holocaust Memorial Day, Rachel Avraham discusses the plight of refugees fleeing genocide and ethnic cleansing, whom the international community is neglecting. She recalled that it was the indifference of the international community that led to 6 million Jews perishing in the Holocaust and she emphasized that the ambivalence of the world towards the fate of refugees is still a problem today.

Photo Credit: Sadaf Mengal

The world-renowned Holocaust survivor and award-winning author Ellie Wiesel once stated, “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness. It’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy. It’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death. It’s indifference.” These wise words spoken by the late Wiesel are just as applicable today as they were regarding the Holocaust.

As Israel commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day, it is important to recall that the main reason why 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust is because no country accepted the right of the Jewish refugees to immigrate to their country. They felt that the fate of the Jews was tragic but they were too indifferent towards their plight to take the responsibility of absorbing them within their borders. This means that the international community’s indifference is just as guilty as the Nazis were for the slaughter of 6 million Jews. It is pivotal to recall that between 1933 and 1941, the Nazis sought to make life so difficult for the Jews that they on their own initiative would leave the areas that they control. They had not yet established the Final Solution as a formal policy. However, after 1938, it was virtually impossible for Jews living under Nazi control to find a country willing to accept them and it was for this reason that the Nazis decided to annihilate the Jewish people. 

The actions of the so-called civilized world during the Holocaust was atrocious. Despite knowing fully about the atrocities experienced by the Jewish people, the US Congress maintained an immigration quota and limited the number of immigrants coming from supposedly undesirable ethnic groups. Even an effort to admit 20,000 Jewish children to the US failed due to lack of support in the US Senate.  Otto Frank and his family were also denied entry to the United States. Had America accepted them, Anne Frank would still be alive today. But the Frank’s weren’t the only ones who fell victim to an indifferent America. The St. Louis ship, which was a boat full of over 900 Jewish refugees, was denied entry to the United States, Canada and Cuba. It was compelled to return to Europe, where approximately a quarter of the passengers died during World War II.  

However, at the same time, in an effort to appease the Arab states, Great Britain severely curtailed Jewish immigration to the Holy Land at the Jewish peoples’ hour of need when they issued the White Paper of 1939. Only 75,000 Jews were to be permitted entry to Mandatory Palestine over a 5 year period and any number over that would be based upon the will of the Arab majority. The Struma ship, which contained several hundred Jewish refugees who sought to immigrate to Mandatory Palestine, was torpedoed by the Soviets and sank off the coast of Turkey. This was after the Turks cast the ship out to sea on a poorly equipped ship after they saw that the British would not let them sail to Mandatory Palestine. 781 refugees died. Only 1 survived. Former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said the White Paper was “the greatest betrayal perpetrated by the government of a civilized people in our generation.” Former Israeli President Chaim Weizmann called it “a death sentence for the Jewish people.” He was especially dismayed that “the White Paper produced no reaction on the part of the American authorities.”

In other words, the indifference of the world to the plight of a nation fleeing genocide is what caused the Holocaust and this message has relevance for our times as well for the ambivalence of the world to the dire situation of refugees fleeing genocide and ethnic cleansing is what causes the continuation of massive human rights violations to date across the globe. While the world is discussing the plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing ISIS atrocities as well as debating how many should be admitted to the West with numerous right wing extremists supporting a ban on immigrants coming from these countries, it is important to recall that there are other peoples’ aside from the Christians, Kurds and Yazidis from the Middle East who are being massacred as we speak and are in desperate need of refuge.

If one wants an example of an occupation the world is ignoring that has resulted in an ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign as we speak, one should look no further than Balochistan. In the past 15 years alone, Pakistan forcefully abducted and caused the disappearance of over 20,000 Baloch people. According to Tarek Fatah, young Baloch men are frequently kidnapped and Pakistan drops their bodies from helicopters. The bodies are found days later. He claimed that on the bodies, one frequently finds pro-Pakistani slogans engraved with knives. In addition, Pakistan has killed thousands more in the framework of their military operations.  Entire Baloch villages have been razed to the ground. There have even been reports of Pakistan setting up rape cells to be utilized as a tool of oppression against Baloch women.

Due to these atrocities which have been going on since Pakistan illegally occupied the sovereign country of Balochistan 9 months after it was established in 1948, around a million Baloch are presently displaced. Sadaf Mengal is one such refugee. She was compelled to flee her native Balochistan due to the ethnic cleansing that Pakistan is implementing against her people. Presently, she is living in Afghanistan because she was not able to flee to a better country. According to her, the present plight of Baloch refugees in Afghanistan is atrocious: “Pakistani terrorists can do everything here. Iran can also kill us and India is far away. We had no choice but to come to Afghanistan. But even here, the Baloch political activists are in danger from Punjabi Taliban and they get threatened by them every day. In 2014, the Taliban said that if they see any Baloch political activists in Afghanistan, they will shoot them. They have done it several times. Many have been killed and injured including women and children. The UNHRC and other humanitarian communities are doing nothing for Baloch political activists. Baloch political activists can’t leave Afghanistan and can’t work because they are targeted. They are in danger and don’t have any help from anywhere.”

According to Mengal, the plight of Baloch refugee women in Afghanistan is especially dire: “We have zero education in Afghanistan. The terrorists don’t accept female education and they are really against it. In Afghanistan, they poison the girls’ schools water system. Many times, they threw acid on the students. We the Baloch people don’t want to be quiet and blind anymore about what Pakistan is doing to us. We want our rights, our land and our freedom from Pakistan. We need an education, which we can’t get in Afghanistan. The UN should help the Baloch people and tell the world what is going on in Balochistan. I appeal to the international community to open up a safe passage for Baloch political activists who are living in Afghanistan and being targeted by terror groups. We want for them to get out of Afghanistan to another country so that they can continue their struggle for the freedom of Balochistan.”

Some Baloch activists have claimed that the way that Pakistan and Iran treats them is no different from how ISIS treats the minorities living under their rule. In fact, JerusalemOnline reported previously that both Iran and Pakistan even cooperate with ISIS on the Balochistan issue. But the Baloch people are merely one nation that has experienced ethnic cleansing yet the world remains indifferent about their plight and refuses to help them.

The plight of the Sahrawi people in the Western Sahara is not too different from Balochistan and nobody speaks about them even though Morocco also invaded them in defiance of the international community on the eve of their independence, thus ethnically cleansing them from their native lands. Presently, Moroccan settlers outnumber the Sahrawi people by a ratio of 3 to 1 in the Western Sahara while half of the Sahrawi nation continues to live in refugee camps with no end in sight. Just as the world does nothing to help Baloch refugees, the world is virtually silent about Morocco’s illegal occupation of the Western Sahara and the ethnic cleansing of the Sahrawi nation.

And what about the world’s silence following the Darfur Genocide, which sought to rid an entire region of a people merely because they were of a certain race and tribe? The mass slaughter and rape of Darfuri men, women and children by the Sudanese government began in 2003 and was the first genocide in the 21st century. Some analysists have argued that it was among the most successful genocides of the 21st century and despite the chemical weapons threat, the international community was not nearly as outraged as they were in Syria. However, 3 million people were displaced. Over 500,000 people were killed. Tens of thousands of girls were raped. Numerous children in Darfur die due to lack of food. But the world also does not care about these refugees, just as they are silent about the plight of Balochistan and the Sahrawi nation. And until ISIS began to threaten the West, the international community also did not really care about the plight of the Kurds, Yazidis and Christians who were being ethnically cleansed by the Baathists and radical Islamists.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, it is time to say enough is enough and proclaim NEVER AGAIN! It is time for the world to work to improve the plight of the Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, the Sahrawi nation, the Darfuris and the Balochi nation. As Wiesel once stated, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”