Documentary Screening followed by Q&A Session
December 5, 2019
I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts chronicles the journey of fourteen refugee youth who take to the stage (in front of a live audience) to re-enact their families’ harrowing experiences in Burma and beyond; before, during, and immediately after the escalation of military violence in their native homeland, Rakhine state; their unforgiving escape by foot and by boat to makeshift camps in Bangladesh; and their eventual resettlement in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.
There, the children resolve to raise awareness for a conflict that has increasingly resembled a cruel and systematic ethnic cleansing campaign – one of the most egregious and overlooked humanitarian crises in the world today. Leading up to the night of their sold-out show, the film takes audiences through the personal lives of the performers, capturing their struggles as they adjust to their new lives in Canada, and exploring the cultural background of “the most persecuted people on Earth.”
With no prior theatrical experience, the decision to perform the stories of their people – accounts of unimaginable loss and suffering that have tragically come to define the Rohingya identity- becomes a courageous act of resistance, demonstrating to the world that they will not be erased, and they will not be forgotten.
The Rohingya are an Indigenous Muslim minority in Myanmar. Their citizenship revoked, they have contended with state-sponsored attacks by the country’s security forces for decades, the violence fueled by extremist propaganda denying their existence throughout Myanmar’ s history and characterizing them as foreign invaders. As summarized by the human rights chief of the United Nations, the conflict stands out as a “textbook example of ethnic cleaning.”
Murder, rape, torture, arson – all appear time and time again in the oral accounts of Rohingya survivors, on which the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees is reliant due to Myanar’s broad restrictions on journalist and aid entry into Rakhine State, the native homeland of the Rohingya.
In August 2017, the escalation of violence resulted in an unprecendented mass exodus of the Rohingya population, 350,000 of whom are estimated to be young children and newborn babies. Their jouney is merciless; without sustenance or shelter they must trek through jungles, over mountains, and even embark on dangerous sea voyages across the Bay of Benagal.
They arrive in Bangladesh sick and exhausted only to be placed in makeshift refugee camps prone to flooding, landslides, human trafficking and abuse by local authorities. Here the Rohingya have no choice but to wait, desperately in need of international protection, but now faced with the brutal prospect of forced repatriation to Myanmar, which many fear would be a precursor to one final mass culling.
There is no end in sight.
After the screening we will host a Q&A with Elizabeth Thomson.
Elizabeth Thomson is a community connections coordinator at Saamis Immigration Services Association in Medicine Hat. Together with her coworker Aidé, they make up what she likes to call the “fun department”. She is one of the newest staff members at Saamis, joining the team in August 2018. Born and raised in Medicine Hat, she holds a Bachelor of Arts from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB, with majors in human rights and gender and women’s studies, and minors in anthropology and sociology. After marrying a British soldier, she moved to Bangor, Wales, where she attended law school, earning an LLB and an LLM in international human rights and international criminal law. Her academic work focuses on law of armed conflict, international human rights, public international law, feminism, and children’s rights. In 2018, she presented her paper on referendums and international legal personality at the inaugural conference of the Eastern Europe Chapter of the International Society of Public Law at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary. At the end of November this year, Elizabeth will be travelling back to the UK to present her masters dissertation, which focuses on women members of Islamic State, to the International Conference of Gender Studies hosted at Cambridge University. Elizabeth is also a bartender, is undergoing the national legal accreditation process to become a lawyer in Canada, is coauthoring an academic paper on human rights and policing with an RCMP officer, and you might see her in the news from time to time.