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Segregated Rohingya Muslims

Published: 19/10/2012 08:18:19 PM GMT
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SITTWE, Myanmar — Segregated in a virtual prison, hundreds of Muslim families from the Rohingya prosecuted minority say they are living in fear for their lives as barbed wire, bamboo walls and armed troops protect them from B (more)

SITTWE, Myanmar — Segregated in a virtual prison, hundreds of Muslim families from the Rohingya prosecuted minority say they are living in fear for their lives as barbed wire, bamboo walls and armed troops protect them from Buddhist violent attacks.

"We cannot suffer anymore,” tearful 28-year-old Mohamed Said told Agence France Presse (AFP).

“We have lost everything but our lives. We are human beings as well.”

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"In my opinion, living in the Sahara desert in Africa would be better than living in this situation," he added.

Living in the ghetto in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe, hundreds of families from the Rohingya Muslim minority group say they are living in fear for their lives.

Muslims have been left particularly deprived, with thousands living in squalid camps on the edge of Sittwe, separated from the Buddhist population and with scant provisions.

Barred from outside life, between 3,000 and 8,000 people are thought to live in an area of roughly 0.5 square kilometers (0.2 square miles), where no traffic circulates and almost all shops have been shuttered.

The prosecuted minority live in a virtual prison with its walls varying from bamboo and barbed wire to simple security cordons.

"Rakhines will attack us today," one man told AFP at Friday prayers last week in the tense enclave of Aung Mingalar.

The same evening groups of Rakhine Buddhists gathered outside the barriers, prompting troops to fire warning shots and sparking panic inside.

On three separate days earlier in the week, hundreds of ethnic Rakhines -- sometimes led by Buddhist monks -- had marched near the perimeter demanding the "relocation" of Aung Mingalar.

Their shouts were clearly audible by people within the ghetto, who could only imagine what was happening outside.

Tensions have been high in Burma since last June when thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee their homes after ethnic violence rocked the western state of Rakhine.

Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingyas in the wake of the riots.

Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya Muslims with killing, rape and arrest following the unrest.


Recalling the South African apartheid in the 1980s, the Segregated Rohingya Muslims feel "worse" because they are unable to leave their camps.

"Freedom of movement was always an issue for the Rohingya, but it is an extreme restriction now," said Sarnata Reynolds, of aid group Refugees International.

"Unofficially there seems to be widespread agreement that the camps will likely be there for three years or more, and that it might be the beginning of a permanent segregation."

While some Rohingya have dared to breach the barriers hiding their faces under hoods to prevent people identifying them, most people have not ventured outside in four months.

"This bamboo fence is like a psychological barrier, symbolizing the fear that separates the two worlds," said Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which campaigns for Rohingya rights.

The UN, which has been active in the region for decades, is more hopeful.

"We are informed by the government that it is for the purposes of bringing the unrest under control, that this is a temporary separation, not a segregation," said UN country chief Ashok Nigam.

Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.

They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.

The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".

Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and the majority are ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.

Treating Buddhism as the state de facto religion, the Buddhist Burman majority was singled out as the trustworthy pillar of national identity.

Reproduced with permission from