Desperate plight of Burma’s Rohingya people

Nasima, 22, is from the Rohingya ethnic group, a Muslim minority that lives in western Burma. Rights groups say it is one of the most persecuted communities in the world – they were made stateless in 1982, and deemed to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Several hundred thousand have since crossed into Bangladesh, where people speak a similar language. This year Dhaka has been accused of arresting hundreds of Rohingya and forcing them over the border – claims the government denies. It says it is too poor to help them. Reporter Mark Dummett spoke to Nasima in the Kutupalong makeshift camp, which is now home to more than 30,000 Rohingyas.

“In Burma my people face persecution, so that’s why we come to Bangladesh,” Nasima said.
“In my family’s case, we came under pressure from the government because we had some property.
“One day, the army accused my father of sheltering someone who had just returned from Bangladesh. Anyone who comes back to Burma is sent to jail, so it is illegal to look after them. But that accusation was false.
“They took my father to a military camp and beat him up. After seven days they sent us his blood-stained clothes and said they would kill him.
“So we sold all our cattle and chickens at the market. We sent that money to the camp and they then released him.
“Later, my brother was attacked by some Buddhist people. He was badly injured and after lots of suffering he eventually died.
“As I grew up, my father decided that I wasn’t safe in Burma. The government doesn’t let us marry so he told me to leave for Bangladesh.
“We had a relative who was handicapped and a beggar, and she agreed to look after me.
“We took a boat over the river and it was very dangerous. On the other side we were stopped by the Bangladesh Rifles [BDR].
“They demanded bribes of 100 taka each [$1.50] to let us through, but we only had 100 taka between us.
“‘You must leave the girl with us then,’ the BDR men said. But my relative refused and argued that she could not move without me helping her. So finally they let us through.”
Police raid
Nasima said: “I already had one sister in Bangladesh but I didn’t know where she was living. So we went to Cox’s Bazar and lived as beggars.
“Sometimes people would give us a little rice or a bit of money to survive.
“Finally I met a man who knew my sister. She was living in Alikadam, and her husband came and got me”.

“I lived there for two years, working as a farm labourer. Life was fine, and I was able to marry and have a child.
“But five days after the baby was born the police arrived. They came without warning when we were having dinner.
“They rounded up all the Burmese men including my husband and my sister’s husband and put them in a police truck.
“I told the police that I had a newborn and that we could not survive without my husband.
“I begged them to let him stay, but they said that the Rohingya should expect no mercy. So I told them to take me too.
“They put me into the lorry and drove us to the river.
“They found a fishing boat and threatened to beat up the captain if he didn’t take us to the other side – to Burma.
“Once we got there, he told us that he had seen some other Rohingyas being shot by the Nasaka [the Burmese border guards], and he told us how to follow the river upstream and then sneak back into Bangladesh.
“We walked the whole night and then finally in the morning we got back to this side.
“That’s when I noticed there was something wrong with my baby. He had died during the journey and I hadn’t even realised it. We dug a small hole with our bare hands and buried him there.
“We came to a road and waved to a passing jeep. We begged the driver to save our lives and take us away from there. All I had to pay him with was my scarf.

“He had heard about the Kutupalong camp and said that the Rohingya were safe there.
“One week after arriving at the camp my husband said he had to go and find work. He left and I have no idea where he is now.
“I survive by going into the jungle and collecting firewood to sell. If I collect some, I can then eat a little.
“This week I have only had three meals. But I am living alone. It is much worse for some of the families with 10 or 11 mouths to feed.
“Death would be better than this life.”

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