More than 270,000 Rohingyans, a large percentage of them women and children, have fled Myanmar in the last two weeks. [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]
A resident of Myanmar’s Rakhine State discusses daily life and the abuses and attacks Rohingyans endure.
“For all my life, all 24 years of it, I’ve been a prisoner in this open air jail you know as Rakhine State. I was born in Myanmar, as were my parents, but my citizenship was snatched away before I was even conceived. We’re facing extinction, and unless the international community stands with us, one of the most persecuted people in the world, we will face genocide and you, you will all be a party to it.
My movement, education, access to healthcare and career have been heavily restricted because of my ethnicity. I’m banned from working in the government, denied the right to pursue higher education, barred from visiting the capital, Yangon, and even stopped from leaving northern Rakhine State. I’m subjected to the worst form of discrimination, all because I’m a Rohingyan Muslim.
For years, my people, who have been denied their most basic rights, are killed on a near daily basis. Shot dead in plain sight, forcibly and systematically made homeless, our homes razed in front of our very eyes; we’re the victims of a brutal state.
For you to fully appreciate what our conditions are like, I’m going to use an analogy: imagine a mouse stuck in a cage with a hungry cat. That’s what it’s like for the Rohingyans. Our only method of survival is to run, or hope someone helps us get out.
For those of us that have remained, there’s a systematic campaign to separate us from the wider Rakhine community. We’re called “Kalar” [a slur often used against Muslims] by Buddhists to our faces. Whether you’re a child or an old man, no one escapes the abuse. We face discrimination at schools and at hospitals, and there’s been a boycott campaign by Buddhists to avoid us at all costs.
“Only buy from Buddhists,” they say. “If you give a penny to a Buddhist, they’ll help build a Pagoda (temple), but if you give a penny to a Muslim, they’ll build a mosque.” These kinds of comments, they’ve become the norm and helped encourage Buddhist extremists to attack us.
When Aung San Suu Kyi, a Noble Peace Prize winner, won parliamentary elections in 2015 and ended half a century of dominance by the military, we had high hopes change was coming. We were confident that this woman, hailed as a beacon of democracy, would end our abuse and oppression. Sadly, it soon became clear that not only would she not be our voice, she would ignore our suffering. Her silence showed she was complicit in the violence.
In the end, she failed us; our last hope, failed us.
In 2012, a huge number of the Rohingya were slaughtered in one of the worst bouts of communal violence. Around 140,000 were internally displaced, an event that would repeat itself in 2016.
Shot, slaughtered, and burned alive in front of their families, the violence last October would give rise to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a small group of men who decided to defend themselves and fight back. Armed with just sticks and stones, they knew they couldn’t fend off the well-equipped Myanmar army but they tried nonetheless. Still, now our sisters and mothers are forced to give birth in paddy fields as we run for our lives in this violence that you say is between two equal sides. It is not. Children being shot at as they flee and women’s bodies floating in rivers is not an equal fight.
We’re facing extinction, and unless the international community stands with us, one of the most persecuted people in the world, we will face genocide and you, you will all be a witness to it.
The author of this letter has requested anonymity due to fear of attacks from the government.
He spoke to Al Jazeera’s Faisal Edroos