Away from bloodshed, Rohingya find peace in Pakistan

KARACHI, Pakistan

Kemal Hussein, 40, who owns a small business in Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi is worried about his relatives living in Myanmar.

“We have lost all contact with them. We don’t know if they are dead or alive,” says an emotional Hussein, who has lost many relatives in Myanmar army’s raids in present-day Rakhine state in 1978, 1982, and 1998.

He is one of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims — often referred to as Burmese — who have made Karachi their home for the last several years.

Up to 4000,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s western Rakhine state into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, according to the UN.

The refugees are fleeing a fresh security operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages.

According to the Bangladesh government, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as among the world’s most persecuted peoples, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

Burma colony in Karachi

Sitting at makeshift cafes and pavements in the dusty streets of a middle-income locality Burma Colony in Karachi, groups of Rohingya men are trying to contact their relatives, who have gone missing in Myanmar.

“We have nothing to worry about except the well-being of our relatives and friends back in Myanmar,” Hussein said.

The escalating frustration has not even spared children.

“My parents keep talking about our uncles and aunts in Myanmar. We have no idea about their whereabouts since the last several weeks,” Maryam, 12, who only gave her first name, told Anadolu Agency.

The last contact, she said, was made on Aug. 24 when her uncles and their families were taking shelter in a village near the Bangladesh border.

“They told us that their village was raided by the army troops who fired wildly before burning the houses. A number of people including women and children were killed, while others took refuge in nearby jungles,” she said.

“It took them two days to reach the border village.”

400,000 Rohingya in Karachi

The port city of Karachi is home to more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims — the highest number after Myanmar and now Bangladesh, unofficial estimates suggest.

The members of the persecuted community had started to trickle into this part of the world in the early 1940s — before the creation of Pakistan.

“The first exodus took place in 1942 following the first army operation that killed over 100,000 Rohingya Muslims,” Noor Hussein Arkani, head of Karachi-based Rohingya Solidarity Forum (RSF) told Anadolu Agency.

A majority of Rohingya refugees, however, made Pakistan their home from 1970 to 1980 after a long and grueling journey via Bangladesh to India and then to Pakistan.

“There has been no mass migration after 1980 as India closed its borders with Bangladesh. However individuals keep coming till today through human smugglers,” Arkani said.

Pakistan’s former military ruler, Gen. Ayub Khan had for the first time officially allocated land for Rohingya refugees in 1962 paving way for two main Rohingya settlements — Burma Colony and Arkanabad (named after the former Rakhine state) — in Karachi’s eastern neighborhood.

More than 50 percent of Rohingya population lives in shanty settlements which lack basic facilities. However, many of them have raised their living standards in the last three decades.

Better lives

Burma Colony has several multi-story concrete buildings, a shopping area, and a small football stadium – owned by Karachi’s famous Burma Mohammadan Football Club.

“A quarter of the total Rohingya population are leading good lives in Karachi. Much better than their parents were in Myanmar,” said Sajid Usmani, head of the Burmese Welfare Association, a not-for-profit organization which works in Rohingya-dominated areas in Karachi.

“A number of them own huge properties. Many are involved in the jewelry business. Some families have members working in the oil-rich Gulf countries and Europe,” he added.

He claims scores of Rohingya have made it into the Pakistan Army and some have even been promoted to the major and colonel ranks.

Habib Luqman, a jeweler, said his uncle is currently living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

“By the grace of Allah, I am in a much better condition here. I own a jewelry business not only in Pakistan but in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well,” he told Anadolu Agency.

A visit to Arkanabad that sits a few miles away from Burma Colony presents a stark difference.

No identity

Piles of garbage and unclean water often cause diarrhea and other waterborne diseases among children who have little access to education.

Only three schools, and two dispensaries run by Jamat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic party serve a population of 80,000.

Most men work as fishermen, while others are employed in carpet-weaving and garment factories.

Locals say they have been denied national identity cards by the Pakistani government which does not accept them as its citizens.

Rohingya, who came to Pakistan from 1971 till 1980, were granted citizenship along with other communities migrated from Bangladesh. After 1980, citizenship to them was blocked by the government, though some managed to get identity cards and passports by bribing officials.

“Despite that there is no comparison between living here and living in Myanmar. Our lives and honor are safe here,” said Noor Hussein, a resident, referring to mass killings and rapes by Myanmar Army

Social workers in the region however warn that the silence of the international community over the crisis may lead Rohingya youth living in Pakistan to militancy.

“I have noticed growing frustration among youths. I fear these emotional youths could turn out to be an easy prey to the global militant groups,” Usmani said.

‘No leader like Erdogan’

Turkey has been at the forefront of providing aid to Rohingya refugees and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will raise the issue at the UN.

The Rohingya community speaks highly about Turkey’s role in highlighting their plight.

“There is no other country like Turkey and no other leader like Erdogan, who has not only voiced concern for us but acted for us,” Arkani said.

“We cannot pay him back for his remarkable services for Rohingya Muslims. It is because of him the international community and other Muslim countries have woken up from deep sleep,” he added.

Source: AA.COM

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