Saturday, December 29, 2012

Homeless and Helpless: The Rohingya Muslims

Disowned By Burma, Consigned To Refugee Camps and Caught Up In Ethnic Violence

Andrew Buncome writes,

What difference does a simple name make? For Mohammad Ali, a resident of this town’s last Muslim neighbourhood, a ghetto cut-off by barbed wire and military check-points, it matters to his very core.

“Look here. It asks 'race' and then says 'Rohingya',” says the 68-year-old, touching his chest with one hand while with the other pointing to a photocopied identity card dating from 1974. “We have been here for a long time. My father, my grandfather, they were born here. We were Rohingya at the time.”

... the Rohingya, have lived here for centuries, claim they are the victims of nothing less than ethnic cleansing.

To glimpse the scale of what has happened while the world largely looked away, take the airport road towards the village of Bumay. From there, a rutted track leads to a series of tented camps in which thousands of Muslims are living, having been driven from their communities.

The largest is Borouda, home to 15,000 people. Many here fled here after their properties in Sittwe were attacked in June. Moniyan Khata, a 38-year-old woman wearing a floral print dress, said their neighbourhood had been surrounded by Buddhists and police. “We had to hide in the lake,” she said, sitting outside her tent.

And why were they attacked? she replied. “They want our land, they want our properties. They want us to leave, to leave the country.”

At another camp, Te Chaung, were those who fled more recent violence, both Rohingya and Kaman Muslims who had escaped by sea from Kyauktaw, 50 miles away. Human Rights Watch released satellite images that revealed Muslim neighbourhoods there had been destroyed on the night of October 22. Some who escaped spent six days at sea in fishing boats containing 100 people.

“I came in one boat, my husband in another and our children were in a different one. We did not know where everybody was,” said Chu Kiri, 35, hugging her four children. “At the time I did not know if my husband and children were dead or alive. It was only when we reached here we met up.”

... tension has existed between the communities for decades and there have been regular outbreaks of violence. While some people say they had friends from the other community, there was never intermarriage.

... bitterness has been seized on by the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), a hardline group established to contest elections in 2010 and which holds 18 seats in the state assembly and 15 in the national parliament. While it says it supports democracy, the RNDP also backs a 1982 law passed by the junta which says the Rohingya are not citizens, and says they should leave.

While the RNDP says it is secular, it has links to local the Buddhist clergy which has been vocal in its condemnation of the Rohingya.

Abbot Ariyawantha of the Sittwe’s Shwe Zadi monastery said he had advised the RNDP leadership on various issues.

Asked what should happen to the Rohingya, he said: “We have to identify the illegal immigrants and keep them in refugee camps. If at some time, a third country wants to accept them we would be happy.”
Walking through its dirty, broken streets, he pointed to where Muslim homes and schools had been set alight or bulldozed during the summer violence. On one side were the homes of a handful of Hindu families and Bollywood music could be heard playing. To ensure they were not mistaken for Muslims, the Hindus were flying Buddhist flags.
In a dark shack that served Chinese tea, Mr Maung organised a showing of hands for those who wanted independence, as opposed to Burmese citizenship. Without exception, the customers voted for the latter. “We want to be citizens of Myanmar. We don’t want to leave Rakhine,” said Mr Maung.

Christophe Reltien, Burma head of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, said the presence of Muslims in the region was a “long story”.
He said the attacks against Muslims were not spontaneous. “We know in some areas it was well organised and not simply people going after a few houses,” “Messages were sent to the [Muslim] community that they should move.”
... for many observers the most disappointing role has been that played by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has refused to denounce the attacks and simply said violence was committed by both sides. 

At her National League for Democracy’s Rangoon office, her spokesman, Nyan Win, said the Rohingya’s future should be decided by the 1982 citizenship law. When it was suggested the Rohingya had lived in Burma for centuries, he said: “That is not true. They were not here before 1824.”

Via: "The Independent"

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