SITTWE, MYANMAR - Next week Myanmar hosts the East Asian Summit, a highly anticipated achievement for its ongoing democratic transition. As world leaders converge on the capital, however, human rights groups are trying to focus attention on the ongoing forced detentions, restricted movements and intimidation of more than 120,000 displaced ethnic Rohingya.
This road connects Sittwe to nine camps housing displaced Rohingya. Security is tight and travel restricted.
This heavy security came to Rakhine following outbreaks of violence between the Muslim Rohingya and mostly Buddhist locals in 2012. To keep the peace, authorities have virtually locked Rohingya into remote encampments.
U.N. rights monitors have deplored the conditions and the lack of basic rights for people whom the government does not recognize as citizens.
On one particular day, soldiers raided a camp looking for weapons and drugs. They did not find any, said resident Saahir Hakim.
“They said they were looking for illegal items in my house and they accused me of hiding illegal material. The owners of the huts said that if they were going to accuse us, then they should find the proof. They said that they had searched already but could not find anything so they asked us, ‘Are you scared?’ We replied, ‘Of course, you are terrorizing us,’” said Hakim.
Some Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, but the government refuses to acknowledge the Rohingya even exist.
In this year’s census, civilians were barred from registering as Rohingya. Instead, they had to register as “Bengalis” from neighboring Bangladesh.
Many Rohingya, like former Sittwe businessman Abdal Hamid, refuse to go along with the government’s demands.
“We asked the Burmese government to classify us as Rohingya nationality but they refused. They demand that we register as Bengalis. How come we have to be Bengalis when we are originally from Burma? We would rather die than register as Bengali. We are Rohingya,” said Hamid.
Basic human rights
International aid groups are providing basics like food and shelter in the camps. But the United Nations warns food aid could run out in the coming months without more funds, and providing adequate healthcare remains a major challenge.
Local doctors like Shaah Zawin are trying to manage with the means available.
“Many of the seriously ill camp patients went to the hospital suffering from lung diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure. They need blood tests but the hospital has stopped us from testing their blood. This is very important. Some Rohingya patients are very sick but the hospital authorities are refusing blood tests anymore. Many of the patients have died because of this,” said Zawin.
As the situation for Rohingya worsens, it remains to be seen whether the international gatherings in Nay Pyi Taw this month will bring up the Rohingya issue with Myanmar authorities.