What it’s Actually Like to Travel in The Midst of a Genocide

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Myanmar has been on my travel ‘wish list’ for quite a few years. The temples of Bagan and the busy streets of Yangon seemed to call to me, and so at the beginning of 2017, I decided that this would be the year that I finally bite the bullet and visit Myanmar.

At this time, Myanmar was already experiencing unrest between it’s majority population (Burmese Buddhists) and one of its minority populations (Rohingya Muslims) but this was not something I became aware of until the second half of 2017.

In fact, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (and the rising body count) didn’t garner much attention in Western media until August.

By the time the true extent of this persecution became more evident, I had already booked my flights to Yangon and had pretty much planned my trip.

It was at this time that I faced a conundrum – did I cancel my trip or go ahead and visit anyway?

This did put me in a sort of moral dilemma. I had seen debates around this very topic on several different forms of social media, and one of the prevailing arguments seemed to be ‘tourism is one of the governments main sources of revenue, so by feeding more money into tourism you are just supporting the persecution of Rohingya Muslims’, and I gotta admit, that argument has some merit.

However, the idea of boycotting an entire country based on the (undeniably heinous) actions of the military does seem a bit extreme. I strongly disagree with the actions of many governments across our globe, but that doesn’t always equate to the justification of a blanket boycotting.

After all, tourism doesn’t just provide revenue for the government. It also provides jobs and support for a huge number of Burmese people; Burmese people who have absolutely nothing to do with the military actions of their government.

So, I decided to forgo any cancellations and go ahead with my trip, and I gotta say, the experience was overwhelmingly strange.

Why was this so strange (aside from the obvious)?

To be perfectly honest, had I not known that a genocide was occurring before I arrived in Myanmar, I would likely never have known it was happening!

There was absolutely ZERO news coverage of the violence taking place.

No newspaper headlines, no news stories, no nothing!

Furthermore, there was absolutely no discussion going on about these events. I did not hear the word ‘Rohingya’ used ONCE during my time in Myanmar. It was honestly so odd. How could what is essentially an ethnic cleansing be taking place in this day and age, and how – in the age of social media – could an entire country seem to be unaware (or just blatantly ignoring) some of the most utterly reprehensible and disgusting military actions imaginable?

Travelling in Myanmar during this time was truly a strange experience. I had expected to see civil unrest and tension. I had expected arguments, conversation and news coverage. Instead, I found a country that on the surface appeared peaceful, calm and safe.

It just goes to show – looks can be deceiving.

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

7 thoughts on “What it’s Actually Like to Travel in The Midst of a Genocide

  1. Media do paint a picture that is sometimes too negative. I really want to visit one of the most beautiful place in India ” Kashmir” but because of constant negative discussions in Media , I always change my mind. But soon I will overcome my apprehension. 🙂

    1. I am not wwellend, but I feel a need to comment on this reply. You should not discount the persecution of the Rohinga because it wasn’t obvious to a tourist. It has been taking place in a province that was never part of the tourist trail. The lack of discussion was probably a combination of censorship and “deliberate not knowing”. The Rohinga are not considered Myanmar citizens by many Buddhist citizens.

      Nor would I discount the travel advisories for Kashmir. While I tend to find the US State Department on the alarmist side, I suggest you read those from the UK, Canada and Australia with care.

  2. I’ve been going through this same moral debate over the past year, and I just can’t decide what is the right thing to do in this situation. Is there a right and a wrong? It’s such a horrible idea to support the government (even if just by visa fees). Urg I don’t really know if this has clarified things or made it more confusing! Thanks for sharing anyway!

  3. Good read as always. The fact that internally there was no sign of the persecution shows the power of the totalitarian process.

    This is why I am so upset about what is happening here in the US. We are not so gradually losing our free press and our rights to peaceful protest as well as free speech. Our “intelligence” agencies monitor and data mine our every word on every device we own. Our police agencies and military can keep constant tabs on our location every instant through our phone signal transmissions and facial recognition software in all too many locations.

    Please don’t take my comments as disapproval of your trip. No, not at all. My comments simply are meant to warning of the overwhelming oppression and suppression that comes with dictatorship. Democracy and America are unfortunately not as synonymous as they once were.

  4. Of course there was no news coverage. What government would want to publicize such heinous crimes against humanity in their newspapers? The Nazis certainly didn’t openly publicize the mass killings that were happening during the Third Reich (though their internal record keeping and documentation was quite detailed).It is also my understanding that the Rohingya don’t live anywhere near the primary tourist track in Myanmar.

    I agree that it’s a complicated situation. While I would love to travel to Myanmar one day, I would feel hugely uncomfortable spending my money in a country that is so shamelessly persecuting a minority group, and who is, furthermore, not responding to the international community at all about it. Yet, you do have a point that the majority of Burmese citizens are not involved in the Rohingya genocide. They are trying to go about their daily lives as best as possible, and many of them to rely on tourist money to survive. Boycotting also does only further polarize Myanmar in an international community that is already feeling hostile towards it.

    I give you props for not canceling your trip despite the genocide. I do believe it’s wrong to denounce a whole country and everybody in it because of the actions of its government. Yet, knowing the way Myanmar is perceived in the global community along with my own extreme lack of tolerance for intolerance, I know I’d have a really hard time going there regardless.

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