As the world rallies in favour of non-violence and mobilises against unjust oppression, a small community in Pakistan’s largest city struggles to raise its voice: these are Karachi’s Rohingya Muslims – a small band of immigrants who managed to escape from the Burmese oppression when the time was right. Today, they helplessly look upon the citizens of the world for a gleam of hope as their kith and kin are persecuted in Myanmar’s Arakan province.
Mahmud, a Rohingya Muslim living in Karachi says that over 90,000 men, women and children have been left displaced in Arakan. “Many were pushed into the water whilst they were trying to escape to neighbouring Bangladesh and several were beaten to death. We know this because we have been using the internet to stay in touch,” he says.
Pakistan’s stance on this issue of contention remains shrouded. Following Tehrik-e-Taliban’s threat directed towards the governments of Myanmar and Pakistan, the Pakistani Foreign Office said in a brief statement on July 26 2012 that there were reports claiming that the situation in Arakan had improved.
This claim made by Pakistan’s Foreign Office goes against Amnesty International’s report on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan. The report states that ‘targeted attacks and other violations by security forces against minority Rohingyas and other Muslims have increased’ since emergency was declared six weeks ago and that ‘Amnesty International has also received credible reports of other human rights abuses against Rohingyas and other Rakhine Muslims– including physical abuse, rape, destruction of property, and unlawful killings – carried out by both Rakhine Buddhists and security forces.’
It goes on to state that the ‘authorities’ should prevent such acts from occurring. The solution proposed by these ‘authorities’, namely Myanmar’s President, runs along the lines of forcing the nation’s Rohingya Muslims numbering close to a million, into refugee camps run by UNHCR or deporting them to a third country.
But UNHCR has rejected President Thein Sein’s proposals, claiming that the solution to this conflict is that Arakan’s Rohingya Muslims should be granted citizenship of Myanmar. And third countries don’t seem to want the Rohingya Muslims either.
According to reports the Bangladeshi government has given orders to force back Rohingya refugees whilst Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) claims that Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh “are getting no aid or protection, while thousands more are turned back by the government of Bangladesh, literally at gunpoint, in violation of international law.”
The justification put forward by the Bangladeshi government for their actions is that their country does not have the capacity to bear a large influx of refugees. Nevertheless, this does not constitute as a valid justification for forcing back destitute immigrants to a land where, according to the United Nations, they are subject to many forms of “persecution, discrimination and exploitation”.
Says Nurul Islam, Chairman of London based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation: “Under present circumstances, it is impossible to get the exact number of casualties. What is coming to the press is largely distorted. However, it is estimated that many hundreds of Rohingya Muslims have been gunned or killed down whilst thousands of homes have been destroyed. Those who are injured have no access to medical treatment. People are now dying of starvation and disease.”
“Do you know that the Rohingya settled in Arakan centuries ago?” asks Ismail, a resident of Karachi. “My grandparents migrated from Myanmar to Pakistan in 1962. That was their good fortune. The Rohingya Muslims in Arakan are fired at from helicopters. When they try to escape to Bangladesh in open boats, they are pushed back into the high seas. How can you possibly rely on a death toll that puts the numbers fatalities close to a hundred?”