Imran Mohammad is 23 years old and a Rohingya refugee who has been in detention on the hellhole of Manus Island since 2013. At Christmas (2017) he was notified to go to Port Moresby to be interviewed by US officials to be included in the Australian-US refugee exchange program.
He is still there waiting for news that will change his life.
We asked Imran, to try to explain to us why the Rohingya people are fleeing Myanmar in their hundreds of thousands to struggle in camps in Bangladesh. Why do the Burmese hate them so much when they have lived in Arakan state for centuries?
Imran tries to give us some answers.
“The level of persecution faced by my people, the 1.1 million Rohingya who have lived in Myanmar until recently is beyond description, even our mother tongue is not allowed to be written. From the day we are born until the day we die we will be known as the most persecuted minority on earth.
We are witness to unspeakable horror and have experienced insufferable tragedy and hardship throughout our entire lives. It is our Motherland and the sand of the land is mixed in our blood and skin yet we don’t have the legal right to belong. We are denied citizenship from the Myanmar government, despite the fact that our ancestors have existed in this part of Burma for centuries. We are known as illegal immigrants which simply means that we have been stateless all our lives. We suffer systematic differentiation in our own land for decades and our stories die with us.
It is so easy to say that the Rohingya people have been persecuted for decades yet it is extremely hard to define the level of persecution we have faced. There are a lot of things to be said but mostly we are discriminated against because of our religion and the fact that we are Rohingya. We have been peaceful all our lives and have never sought to claim the state as our own, all we ask is the Myanmar government give us citizenship as Rohingya Muslim. Despite the fact that our families’ roots in modern-day Rakhine, once called Arakan, and can be traced back to the Eighth Century and our existence in the history of Burma is inevitable, we have been the victims of grievous systematic abuse for many years.
Is There An Answer?
I have always tried to find the roots of the unbearable hardships that we experience in our own land. Generally we live in harmony with those with different beliefs but when a problem occurs, the population turn against the Rohingya people. Although we have been best friends for ages, they don’t think for a second before destroying our lives, as if we had been enemies for decades. If they were asked why they are ruining the Rohingya people, they would not have an answer. There is a profound hatred in their blood which it is believed they have inherited from their ancestors.
It is our dream to live in our own land like all the other citizens in Myanmar but it is a dream which will never eventuate. Through their systematic torture Myanmar authorities have created an indelible fear in Rohingya people’s minds, a situation which could be repaired overnight. Whatever happens, we are the victims. It is the Rohingya people who lose their lives, properties etc. and hundreds of thousands innocent Rohingya have been executed without committing any crime. A significant number of assaults on Rohingya people go unreported as the people who are holding the power, are the criminals.
In spite of not having a written mother tongue, there are a lot of talented Rohingya who have managed to get some sort of education, yet they are not allowed to apply for a job in the government sectors anywhere in the country. We can’t get a degree, and not a single student can travel to Rangoon (Yangon) for studies. We can’t travel anywhere. It has become very common not to send children to school as their families are not acknowledged. The restrictions which have been imposed on our lives are just beyond imagination, we live but there is no freedom. We need permission from the authorities to go to another village. If we get caught staying in another village without letting the authorities know, we will be imprisoned indefinitely unless of course, we are capable of paying a bribe for freedom.
We are not allowed to work freely, yet we are expected to pay for every basic thing. If we want to change a pillar of our houses or mosque, we not only need permission from the authorities, but we still have to pay for it. We are required to work for the government without being paid. If they want to build a road, one person from each Rohingya family has to do the harsh labour work. If there is no-one to work, we have to pay for it. Half a dozen Rohingya men from each village have to watch over their villages overnight, which is really the responsibility of the authority. They will be fined if they don’t attend and if they can’t afford the fine, they will be beaten. If Rohingya are seen outside their homes after 9 or 10pm, they will be arrested and harassed. There is no electricity supplied by the Burmese government in Arakan state so we have to use torch light with restrictions. Forced labour – for sentry duty, road maintenance, and “camp related tasks”- arbitrary detention, including of children below the age of 16, and extortion are the abuses committed by the Burmese authorities against the Rohingya, on a daily basis.
Little Medical Help
Rohingya people die from minor illnesses as there is no medical assistance from the Myanmar government. There are a few private hospitals in Arakan State which are run by Mog ( Buddhist people). Because there are no ambulances we carry our patients and walk for miles to see a doctor, and hundreds of people die because they can’t get to the hospital on time. If they do make it to the hospital, there are not many who can pay the money that the doctors demand. A vast number of Rohingya women lose their lives in childbirth. From time to time we receive some sort of medical help from UNHCR but they can’t work freely because of the conditions imposed on them.
We have been subject to cruel and degrading treatment for decades. The Burmese government has tightened its discriminatory restrictions on the Rohingya in the last few years, although many of the policies have been in place for decades. These include restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, education, employment and economic livelihood, land and property ownership, freedom of religion, and other basic facets of everyday life. Many of these restrictions stem from the Rohingya’s lack of Burmese citizenship, and are discriminatory measures based on the racial and religious identity of our people.
There is no media presence in Arakan State and we can’t use mobile phones which support internet. If we get caught with a digital phone, we will be imprisoned and have to pay for our release. The Burmese government doesn’t want the world to know about the genocide of Rohingya people which is leading to ethnic cleansing. The Burmese government has wanted for years to drive the Rohingya people out of their homeland so that it becomes a Muslim free zone. Another macabre violent episode was launched by the Burmese military on 25 August 2017. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are now displaced which sparked the mass exodus of civilians to Bangladesh. Their lives changed overnight and our people have become refugees in their own land as well as in a foreign land, joining overcrowded camps of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar after decades of troubles. They have made it to safety, however many have not managed to escape death. Their current situation in the improvised camps in Bangladesh is just a horror beyond words.
All Are Now Escaping
In the 1970s and 80s, Rohingya people walked miles to save their lives. In the last past years, boats carrying Rohingya typically left from northern Arakan state to Bangladesh, and included only men and teenage boys. However, boats are now departing Sittwe Township as well as northern Arakan State and Bangladesh, and for perhaps the first time, are carrying women and young children as well. The impact of these policies of discrimination has resulted in the exodus of many from the community who attempted the dangerous journeys by boat, risking their lives at sea. Some are pushed back to the sea. Others remain in detention facilities in the countries where they land.
We are losing our people, culture, traditions, language and land. We cannot see a future for ourselves or the next generations. We have been pushed to our limits again and again and forced to leave our Motherland. We are living our lives as refugees, when all we are asking for is recognition, citizenship as Rohingya, peace and safety.
It is a global crisis and it is about people, not borders and barriers. It is about human dignity not deals. We are human like you. How much bloodshed will it take, before the world wakes up and we will be safe?
The Bangladesh government say we are not from Bangladesh, which is right as there is no glimpse of any record of our people in Bangladesh history. Even though we practice the same religion, our culture is different and we speak different languages. Our national language is Burmese which the majority of the Rohingya cannot speak. Our mother language is similar to the Chittagonian dialect of Bengali spoken on the other side of the border in Bangladesh but there is still a huge different between us. The Chittagonians don’t wish to call themselves Rohingya as they have a country. It is the Rohingya who are stuck in the middle.
There are hundreds of thousands Rohingya living in Yangon, Thailand, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia but they have to hide their identity and hold fake documentation to survive. I lived in Bangladesh for many years with relatives, before I left permanently. I saw how our people are struggling in Bangladesh. We can live in these countries if we don’t get caught up in legal issues. While there are so many things to be said, I write what I have seen, heard and experienced so you will know more about our lives.
The Myanmar government is labelling the mass killing of Rohingya as operations against terrorists. It is said that a group called ARSA (the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) using sticks and knives, attacked several paramilitary check posts resulting in the deaths of many armed soldiers, and it is believed this is being used to justify the government’s actions against the Rohingya, but has one person from this group been found? The answer is no.
Has anyone from other ethnic groups in Arakan state been murdered? The answer is no. It is clear, what is happening in Rakhine state is genocide and is leading to ethnic cleansing.”