Rohingya Muslims Describe a Life of Fear in Myanmar’s Biggest City Yangon

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YANGON/Myanmar: For four straight days last month, Rahim Muddinn watched, amazed, as Myanmar’s state-run newspapers published special supplements showing Rohingya Muslims accused of being terrorists — nearly 250 photos each day.

For the 41-year-old Rohingya man, it was a surreal moment. He was born and raised in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city and far from the western state of Rakhine, where bloody military operations that followed Rohingya militant attacks in August  have driven about 700,000 refugee in Bangladesh.

The pictures are the latest in a series of chilling realizations for the Rohingya minority here. Though Yangon’s tree-lined bolevards and weathered colonial architecture seem a world away from the rice paddies and isolated villages of Rakhine — let alone the tarp-walled huts of the teeming refugee camps — the government is increasingly linking Rohingya across the country with what it calls a terrorist threat, Muddinn and others say.

“When we first saw those pictures, we started laoghing. We wondered: When will it be our turn to have our pictures in the paper?” Muddinn, a teacher, said in an interview in his Yangon home.

“One day it really could be my picture in the paper,” said Muddinn. Like most of the other Rohingya who spoke with The Associated Press, he used his Rohingya name because of safety worries. “I do have anxiety. The government can detain anyone it says is a supporter of terrorism or anyone viewed as a threat to the state.”

Though Rohingya have always been persecuted in the country, it got much worse after 2012, when violence in Rakhine killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people, most of them Rohingya, from their homes to camps. Violence flared again in 2016 and, most dramatically, following the August attacks, when refugees report widespread killing and rape by Myanmar forces.

Many Rohingya have been in Myanmar for generations, but, increasingly, the government and media have played up their claim that they’re not citizens but “illegal Bengali interlopers” who entered Myanmar from Bangladesh with the help of corrupt immigration officers.

There are non-Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and they often report rising discrimination, especially those in Rakhine. But generally their situation is less precarious than the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s government denies discriminating against Rohingya and other Muslims.

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