Far From Myanmar Violence, Rohingya in Pakistan Are Seething

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Pakistan was among the earliest and most strident in condemning the Myanmar government for its offensive, which started after Rohingya militants killed members of the security forces. The United Nations said Tuesday that since then, at least 370,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh.

But even as politicians and civil society in Pakistan are up in arms over how members of the Buddhist majority in Myanmar are abusing the Muslim Rohingyas there, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya migrants here continue to live in desperation.

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Across the Arkanabad slum, decrepit shanties with temporary walls, often with no doors and windows and unsteady corrugated roofs, house more than 100,000 Rohingya.

Credit
Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Across the Arkanabad slum — named after the old designation for Myanmar’s present-day Rakhine State — decrepit shanties with temporary walls, often with no doors and windows and unsteady corrugated roofs, serve as homes to more than 100,000 Rohingya.

The men mostly work as fishermen, while a small number weave carpets or are employed in garment factories. Malnutrition and diarrhea are common among children who have little access to schools and spend their days playing in rivers of garbage.

Residents said that up to 30 families shared a single tap of water. But even where running water is available, it often flows for fewer than four hours a day. There are no hospitals in the slums, and at least six women spoke of having a relative die giving birth because she had been denied admission to government hospitals.

Still, what people complained of the most in interviews last week was routine harassment by the police. Many spoke grimly of a “Burma Cell,” a special police division responsible for cracking down on Rohingya migrants. (Burma is the former name of Myanmar.)

Many Rohingya have carried Pakistani national ID cards for years but since the authorities started cracking down on fake versions in 2014, many have found it hard to renew their cards. And the second generation is being denied cards altogether, they said.

“Without cards, we are blocked out of jobs, our children can’t apply for admission in high schools and we can’t access government hospitals,” said Mr. Arkani, of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization.

In the slum of Burmi Colony, many residents spoke of being forbidden by the police to leave to fish. Mohammad Younis, a fisherman in his 30s, said he had not worked for half a year and his monthly salary of around $600 had shrunk to less than $60.

“When I try and take my nets and go out, I get stopped by the police, who ask for my ID,” said Mr. Younis, whose documents expired six months ago. “I show them documents to prove I am trying to renew my ID card, but they don’t even let me leave the colony.”

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Abdul Hameed, a Rohingya fisherman, at a harbor in Karachi. Pakistan was among the earliest to condemn the Myanmar government for its offensive against the Rohingya.

Credit
Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

He added, “We will die, trapped here without access to our means of livelihood.”

Residents described arrests of people without cards who were then held either on impossible bail or until they paid a bribe directly to officers.

Malik Ishfaque, the station house master at the police station under whose jurisdiction many of the Rohingya-majority slums fall, said that officers were duty-bound to crack down on anyone who did not possess valid documents. And while he acknowledged that the Burma Cell used to exist, he said it had been dismantled.

Asked about instances of harassment and intimidation by the police that some Rohingya had described, Mr. Ishfaque said: “We act against these people because they are a group of thieves,” noting that crimes like pick-pocketing and robbery in the surrounding area were mostly committed by the Rohingya.

Despite having little, the Rohingya have been trying to directly help their people back in Myanmar.

Mr. Arkani said the community had raised money to send meat from 30 cows for the new wave of refugees in Bangladesh, as no new refugees were being allowed into Pakistan. The Rohingya Solidarity Organization had also set up a glass donation box, but it was almost empty.

“We are so poor already, but even then we try to raise whatever little money we can among ourselves,” he said. “But we need more help from Pakistani people who are rich, who have resources.”

Many who live here cannot even officially identify themselves as Rohingya. To avoid persecution and be accepted as naturalized citizens, many pretended to be Bengalis who migrated from East Pakistan before the 1971 war of independence, after which it became Bangladesh.

“You ask if we have enough to eat or drink, but I ask you: What is our condition when we cannot even say we are Burmese?” said Noor Jabbar, a community elder whose ID card expired three months ago but who has not succeeded in renewing it.

For his part, Khalid Saifullah, 70, who migrated from Myanmar four decades ago, described persistent mistreatment. “They won’t let me be a citizen, because then they have to give me rights and they won’t call me a refugee because then they have to give me aid,” said Mr. Saifullah, showing the high school diploma he had received from a school in Karachi. “I am not a citizen or a refugee. I am an illegal alien. I am nothing.”

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