'Myanmar practices discrimination for many decades'

Kalerkantho Online   

12 December, 2017 12:47 PM

'Myanmar practices discrimination for many decades'

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Abdul Rasheed, the founder of the Rohingya Foundation, a human rights organization based in Yangon, has recently been interviewed by North Carolina Public Radio.

During the conversation, the Yangon-based human rights defender made several numbers of observations over the Rohingya repatriation deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The activist, who goes by both names, is himself Rohingya and has been working on behalf of his people for the past several years, says repatriation must be done safely, securely and with dignity.

"The government has to demonstrate their willingness and their honesty with the repatriation, that when the people repatriate, their citizenship has been guaranteed," he says.

The interview was taken last week when he was in the US to hold a meeting with UN officials and lawmakers to raise awareness about the plight of his people.

Here is the highlight of the interview

On Rohingya conditions before a 1978 crackdown that resulted in some 300,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh

We never faced any kind of discrimination at that time. Life was quite good and normal, everything. We were very friendly with the [Buddhist-majority] Rakhine community.

Rohingya start fleeing Myanmar in 1978, and they've never had the opportunity to come back. People get arrest[ed], people get [tortured] and people start leaving in 1978. Since then, things are growing worse and worse and never changed to a better way.

On discrimination against minorities in Myanmar

It's not only the Muslim, not only the Rohingya. Religious discrimination in Myanmar is practic[ed] for many years, many decades. The categories are very different. Discrimination with the Christian community, the level is different. Discrimination against the other [non-Rohingya] Muslim, the level is different.

The discrimination with the Rohingya is higher than other communities as well because Rohingya are a huge community in Rakhine State ... they [the government] don't want Rohingya to be a political power, to claim political partnership. This is the main issue. That's why the government is promoting a discriminatory policy and they're weakening the Rohingya community. So this is mostly political because they don't want Rohingya to be a political power.

On the Rohingya diaspora

Many [Rohingya] people are living in Malaysia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia ... I have met families in Malaysia who are living [there] for 20 years and they never had the opportunity to go back to home to meet their families.

They don't have any kind of protection in terms of citizenship or national protection. So now, around 2 million Rohingya [are] living outside Myanmar. The Rohingya left in the country is about 700,000 to 800,000.

So Rohingya are not safe anywhere, not in their own country, not in the diaspora. A majority of the people in Pakistan, Saudi [Arabia] and Malaysia, they're integrated. But a few people are living in Malaysia in camps, Thailand, Indonesia, and India as well.

On the possibility of repatriation

Rohingya are facing a severe situation in Bangladesh because there are about 1 million people in the camps. They don't have anything, even they don't have a roof, they're using plastic sheets as a roof. They're willing to go back home, but they're scared the situation is not safe for them, so many people say, "We prefer to die in Bangladesh rather than go back home."

But some people say, "If we can live in our country with the safety, security, and dignity, we prefer to live back [in] our country."

The current situation in Rakhine State, it's not a situation where they can come back soon.

There are more than 100,000 people living in IDP [internally displaced people] camps around Sittwe [the capital of Rakhine State]. So the government has to demonstrate their willingness and their honesty with the repatriation, that when the people repatriate to Myanmar, their citizenship has been guaranteed. [The] government has to dismantle all the IDP camps and resettle those people to their original place, original land.

It's an awful situation, so the international community must take serious implementation, swift and urgent. And one thing, people should not be put again in the camp when they're repatriated. What we want, people should be repatriated with dignity and should be repatriated in their own, original home, rather than to put in the camp. We are wondering [if], when the people come back, they might be put in the camp again. The international community must take care of this.

Activist Abdul Rasheed is also an adviser to Fortify Rights, a human-rights organization that specializes in Rohingya issues.

He previously worked with the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi's party, but in 2012, after violence erupted in Rakhine, he decided to devote himself full-time to Rohingya issues.