Imran Mohammad, Rohingya writer currently held in detention by Australian authorities on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea
The 1.1 million Rohingyans who lived in Myanmar, formally Burma, are believed to be the most persecuted minority on earth. They lived predominately in the western part of Myanmar in Arakan state. Despite the fact that their ancestors have existed in this part Burma for centuries, they are known as illegal immigrants and suffer systematic discrimination in their own land.
They are peaceful people, but stateless, which simply means they are denied citizenship from the Myanmar government. There are strict restrictions imposed on Rohingya people, such as freedom of movement. They cannot move from one village to another without permission, for which they have to pay. In cases of medical emergency they can try to go to Bangladesh for treatment but if they have no money, then all the efforts are useless. The Rohingya language is not allowed to be written which makes them extremely vulnerable in practicing their religion and many other basic human rights.
For Rohingyans, it is like living in a prison and each village is a compound. They bury their phones like prisoners and as the villages have little or no electricity, they don’t have much opportunity to charge them. I can still remember my parents putting their valuable things like my mother’s wedding gold and money underneath the house, as there is no security in their lives and their property is regularly stolen.
They cannot hold a bank account as they have no permanent identity from the Myanmar government. If the authorities sense someone has quite a lot of money, he will be constantly harassed. To illustrate this point, Rohingyans are dependent upon their farms, fishing, hunting in the mountains and the money that is being sent by their relatives from other countries, through Fundi, a type of network where money changes hands. For example someone in Malaysia, will have someone in Bangladesh, Yengon, or Thailand and they will have someone in Arakan. So he will give the money to your family, but sadly each person will take a commission from you, and by the time your family receive the money, there is not much left. This is not end of struggle, somehow the government knows that you are being sent money and they will come to your house to take a share from it. If the Rohingynas don’t give them money, they will lose their lives, children or be imprisoned on fake charges.
The young boys fear for their lives more than anyone else and young girls prays every single day not to be a rape victim. When a Rohingya woman is raped, it means her life is over.
They never know what to expect from one day to the next and a significant number of assaults on Rohingya people go unreported as there is no media presence, and many people have died because they spoke out against the authorities. No one dares to say a single word of their enormous hardships due to the fact that those holding the power are the criminals and consequently the civilians voice will never be heard.
The Myanmar authority has created an extreme level of fear for the Rohingya people through their torture over decades which prevents them doing simple things. It feels as though it will never leave them alone as it is with them from the day they are born and they experience it throughout their entire life. It is a sort of fear which barely crosses one’s mind.
Rohingyans have never sought to claim the state as their own and push everyone else out. All they want is the Myanmar government give them citizenship as Rohingya Muslim. Despite the fact that their families’ roots in modern-day Rakhine, once called Arakan, can be traced back to the Eighth Century and their existence in the history of Burma is inevitable, they have been the victims of a grievous systematic abuses for many years.
Rohingya people have become refugees in their mother land in Aikkaf (Burmese name is Swtwi) after the military crackdown which began in early September 2012. Tens of thousands of Rohingya families were displaced. There is no sign left of the villages and now those who survived are living in the refugee camps. They literally rely on the UN agencies for food, water and medicine and other basic supplies. Thousands of Rohingya people have escaped to save their lives.
There was another attack on Rohingya people by Myanmar army which took place in October 2016. Thousands of civilians were slaughtered, decapitated, shot, burnt or buried alive. Young girls were taken, raped until they died. Their villages and homes were burnt to the ground. They had not managed to straighten their backs before another ghastly violent episode was launched by the Burmese military on 25 August 2017. The Burmese government has wanted for years to drive the Rohingya people out of their homeland so that it becomes a Muslim-free- zone. Rohingya people have been persecuted because of their religion and ethnicity.
What is happening in Rakhain state is clearly genocide and it is leading to ethnic cleansing. The Myanmar government is labelling the mass killing of Rohinga people as operations against terrorists. However, one really needs to wonder how terrorists can fight with sticks and knives. It is said that a group called ARSA (the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) attacked several paramilitary check posts. It is believed that it is just being used to justify what is being done to the Rohingya people. Has one person from this group been found? The answer is No. Has anyone died from other ethnic groups in Arakan state? The answer is no.
Arakan state has been militarised with the use of helicopters and boats. Myanmar military forces have been murdering them inhumanly, sometime children in front of their parents. The Rohingya people are facing extinction by the Myanmar governments oppressive and brutal regime, on the watch of the whole world. There are thousands of videos and pictures of ongoing mass killing of Rohingya people which were shared via WhatsApp, Facebook and other apps, during the attacks on their lives.
Hundreds of innocent Rohingya have lost their lives. Almost all the villages have been burnt down so that no one can find any evidence of the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyan people. The houses have become ashes. It took them years to build their homes but everything has been demolished within a few hours. Tens of thousands of Rohingya are now displaced which sparked the mass exodus of civilians to Bangladesh and there are boundless Rohingya who are internally moving from one village to another, hiding in the mountains, in the shelters they can find along the way. They have no food to eat, no water to drink, no clothes to wear, no medical attention for the gruesomely wounded and highly pregnant women. Parents lost their children, kids lost their mothers and fathers. Young men are carrying their elderly parents and walking miles to reach Bangladesh border. Myanmar army are telling the villagers to leave their homes, so the terrified Rohingya are escaping to save their lives. It is reported that the Myanmar military are using mines in the villages and also at highly trafficked paths around the border, putting the lives of ordinary Rohingya at enormous risk. The Myanmar government blocked UN agencies from delivering vital supplies to remaining Rakhine residents.
Words can’t describe how it must feel to leave the land behind which has a direct connection with your blood. They have seen their homes and belongings burning in front of their eyes. It would feel worse than being stabbed in the chest with a knife. Hundreds of mothers’ breasts are full of milk but their arms and laps are empty as their babies are not breathing anymore. The trees that they have looked after for years no longer exist. They have seen unspeakable horror and have experienced insufferable tragedy and hardship. They have risked everything just to make it to safety. Their lives changed overnight and hundreds of thousands Rohingya have become refugees in a foreign land, joining overcrowded camps of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar after decades of troubles. Now they are living with a few inches of plastic over their heads in an unhygienic makeshift camp in Bangladesh.
The lives of Rohingyan people were not safe, are not safe and will never be safe in Arakan state. They have never wanted to overthrow the Myanmar government and had no intention to leave their mother land. All they wanted was citizenship as Rohingya, peace and safety in their lives.Thousands of Rohingya including myself, are suffering in many refugee camps around the world. Hundreds of refugees and I have been incarcerated indefinitely by the Australian government for five years now on Manus Island PNG and Nauru.
It is a global crisis and it is about people not borders and barriers. It is about human dignity not deals. We are intertwined and when one group faces a problem it is common that another group will too. I am urging the international communities to act immediately to solve Rohingya crisis. It is high time to show acceptance, compassion, love and humanity. We are human like you. How much bloodshed will it take, before the world wakes up and we will be safe?