World failing displaced people, says Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Myanmar

09.07.2018

Policymakers are moving "backwards" in their efforts to cope with the unprecedented 68.5 million people displaced from their homes around the world, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei told journalists during a visit to Myanmar on Saturday.

"States are becoming more xenophobic, exclusive and avoiding discussing central issues about humanity," the artist said.

Ai was in Myanmar to "study the case" of displaced Rohingya Muslims and gain "a better understanding about the situation and the conflicts."  He was also planning to visit Bangladesh as part of the same trip.

In August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh amid a brutal Myanmar military crackdown dubbed "ethnic cleansing" by the United Nations.

For his 2017 documentary "Human Flow," Ai visited 23 countries and interviewed 600 displaced people.

On Saturday, the artist described the plight of the Rohingya as "a warning of how fragile our 21st-century conditions are and how ineffective global politics are in relating to human rights and the human condition." He said Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi had a "moral duty" to speak out for the human rights of the Rohingya, adding that she had been "too indecisive and not clear on political issues."

Buddhist-majority Myanmar denies the Rohingya access to basic human rights including freedom of movement, education and healthcare and labels them "Bengali" to infer they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

"When major political powers support one side and ignore one side's rights, it becomes very dangerous," Ai said. The 60-year-old artist has first-hand experience of rootlessness: he was imprisoned by Chinese police in 2011 for 81 days and went into self-imposed exile in Germany in 2015. As a child, he spent time in a labour camp in rural China.

His past activism includes collecting data on the thousands of children who died during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

Ai urged world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, not to lose sight of "basic human rights and the human condition" in their migration policies. The migrant crisis was the "one big challenge" facing the European Union, Ai said, arguing: "If human rights and the human condition can be so easily disregarded or used as a political bargain chip, which only shows that we have not come very far since World War II."

He also lamented the rise of isolationism and populism around the globe, describing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and Britain's decision to leave the European Union as "symptoms of a deep illness, a deep wound that is the result of decades of fast development and globalisation."

Migrant issues "can only be solved by two sides sitting down and having a discussion, rather than pointing fingers at one another," he said, adding that "to build a wall is never going to work."    (dpa)

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