The Motherland

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There are approximately 1.33 million Rohingya in Burma, but the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law denies them citizenship in spite of the fact that they have lived in Burma for generations.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “I am risking my life talking to you so I have to talk in secret, and also because my family is still in Myanmar. It’s not just about family; the Muslim people as a collective in my village are being killed! I beg you not to show my picture, for God's sake.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “Apparently, the main issue was that the monks (Buddhist men) raped a Buddhist woman and then attributed the crime to Muslims.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “After the rumor spread about the rape of the Buddhist woman, the Buddhist community reacted and became heated and hostile.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “Fighting broke out between Buddhists and Muslims over the rape of the woman, although it was a monks that committed the act.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “They blamed the Muslims collectively, attacked them, and killed several Muslims.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “Among the dead were mullahs, university students, and some Hafiz students of the Qur’an. In the Arakan district, the Muslim community condemned the act and held a ceremony in respect to those who were murdered.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “Muslims gathered in a mosque in the Mongelo district – it was the largest mosque in the region in a ceremony for those who were slaughtered in retaliation of the false allegation.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “The police, accompanied by Nasaka and a mob of civilian Buddhists, surrounded them. Then the army entered the mosque, prevented the Muslims from praying and went about ransacking the mosque.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “Some of the Muslims stood up and opposed the attack, voicing their objections. The extremists Buddhists locked them inside the mosque with fire.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “The Muslims attempt to fight back in resistance, only served to expand the brutal retaliation by the Buddhist extremists. They mounted raids on Muslim homes, burning them down, as well as attacking more mosques.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “They set fire to Mona Para, a Muslim area in the Mondo district and Bankogara as well.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “The police, army, Nasaka, Luntin, and monks all took part in killing people.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “Extremist Buddhists are killing Rohingya Muslims and are forcing them to leave their houses on the pretext that they are not recognized as being from this region.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: The wholesale murder and massacre of Myanmar Muslims actually goes back five decades. The military government of Myanmar in collaboration with extremist Buddhists of Rakhine and Arakan have routinely killed Muslims to this day in fact It has been an active policy of the Myanmar government since 1952.

These people, the Rohingyas, have been living here independently since the 7th century as Arakan residents. After the occupation of Burma (now Myanmar) by the United Kingdom, the British seized the land of Arakan and joined it with Myanmar.

In 1982, the Residence law was passed in Myanmar based on which out of the 144 existing tribes, 135 received a residency permit, but 9 tribes were excluded - The largest of these excluded tribes is the Rohingya.

In recent years, the Myanmar government has applied some policies for obligatory immigration of Rohingya Muslims from the area. They are forced to seek asylum in neighboring countries, and most of them go to Bangladesh.

“Here is Chitagong, the center of the second largest county of Bangladesh, which lies on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is where I live. In recent years we commonly see displaced Myanmar immigrants who have escaped from Arakan.

In recent weeks news of slaughters and even the burning of Rohingyan people has been reported in the media. As a social activist, I decided to investigate further to find out more. I contacted some of my friends - a few were aware of the developments, and so I asked for their help.

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Dip Prashed Dash, Photographer & Journalist: “The area of Arakan became part of Myanmar and over the course of time the Myanmar government acquired the district as a part of its territory, but does not recognize the inhabitants living in the district as part of its nation.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Morteza Tofigh Islam, Photographer & Journalist: “‘Rohingya’ in Burmese means ‘not from here’. This is while laws in many countries of the world state that if a person lives in a country for 16 years they are recognized as resident to that country.””

Narration: During the Second World War, the British army fled Burma as the Japanese army invaded that space, and did not return. During that time, the monks - who are all Buddhists - raided Muslim districts in Arakan killing thousands of Muslims who were stuck there. Following early massacres, the Muslims started to fight back against the Buddhists in several locations, which led to on-going struggles between the monks and Rohingyans in Arakan.

The Burmese government was a proponent of Buddhism and in 1961 passed a law announcing Buddhism as the official state religion.

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “We have no ownership over our properties, our houses, our cows, our belongings. Extremists Buddhists say these are all for us – meaning ‘them’, that this land does not belong to Muslims so you cannot own these things.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Member of Teknaf City Council at Bangladesh: “Due to the many problems they are seeking asylum in Bangladesh. Those who are abroad are not able to send money to Burma. There are too many strict limitations for Muslims, they cannot even travel from one county to another.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “I got married 5 years ago. Extremist Buddhists charged me 330 thousand Take to get permission for me to get married and have a ceremony, and this was under the condition of us having a maximum of one child only!”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Member of Teknaf City Council at Bangladesh: “Muslims do not have the right to take part in any activity at the schools. Those who are considered literate are forced to quit school. They are not permitted to receive an education. If somebody goes to school he is arrested straight away!”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “Even if we receive education and want to be employed in a governmental organization, we are not permitted. We can only work as manual labor or as sales people. Buddhists of course can get a job in the governmental body, the police or the army.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Member of Teknaf City Council at Bangladesh: “There are so many economic and occupational opportunities in Myanmar that if Rohingyans were permitted to work, they would not be obliged to immigrate to other countries.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Shopkeeper: “Some moments ago I called a guy in Burma and asked him about his living conditions. He said they were dreadful. People are leaving the district day after day and it is becoming abandoned. They search for Muslims house-to-house, vandalize the mosques, they kill the Imams of mosques and burn their corpses or dispose of them in an unknown place. They even harass those who have reached Naff River. When they arrive at the other side of the river they are still harassed - The Buddhists do not allow anyone to help them.””

Narration: Naff River is the only border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. It is a wide river where big ships pass. In order to set themselves free from the oppression of the Myanmar government and to escape to Bangladesh, the Muslims in Arakan have to cross the river. Crossing the river is illegal and at great risk to life.

The fleeing Muslims must take the path by antiquated makeshift boats and move out quietly in the night so as not to be detected. They also have to tolerate hunger and the sun’s heat while drifting across the water. Occasionally, a boatload will lose its way and the passengers die after wandering aimlessly over the water for weeks.

Even those who succeed in reaching the shores of Bangladesh are threatened by another danger, being captured by Bangladeshi police.

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “If someone wants to go to Myanmar from Bangladesh, he also has to take this difficult route!”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Local Citizen: “Once I left home, it took me one hour by car to reach the border. At the border line there was a mosque situated on the right-hand side of the lake. After asking for directions on how to get to Bangladesh, I actually swam to the other side of the river - That took about two hours. When I reached the other side of the lake across the border, a Bangladeshi family gave me a loincloth and two pieces of clothing including an Indian Sari that covered my body. They also provided me with some food.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Abdo Al-Rahman, Rohingya Refugee: “I hung around the border area - which was surrounded by barbed wire. For three days I had nothing to eat. Border guards took a shot at me. I ran and escaped to the canal, which leads to open sea. After I crossed the canal one of the locals assisted me further. When I got close to the sea the border guards blocked my passage. I backtracked and looked for a secret route to sneak across into Bangladesh. I took shelter in an oil barrel and dragged myself to the sea shore. I thought that if I floated across the sea with the barrel that I could get close to a Bangladeshi locality. On the way though I was so hungry and had to stay at a motel to eat. Since I did not have any money I worked in exchange for food and a place to rest.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Local Citizen: “We should tell of our problems that we are displaced, homeless and trapped here; we cannot return and our condition is not sustainable to stay here.””

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: Bangladesh! … A place of refuge for homeless Rohingyan people! A country that is struggling with multiple and serious dilemmas; It is not able to bear the burden of its own people; and now it must endure the problem of Myanmar’s refugees!

Bangladesh is the ninth most populated country in the world and also among the most densely populated in area.

Bangladesh’s economy is undeveloped and almost entirely dependent on agriculture. About 82 percent of its population are farmers. Malnutrition, lack of natural resources combined with rapid population growth have caused serious economic problems for Bangladeshi’s. According to recent reports by the Asian Development Bank, a staggering 95 percent of Bangladeshi women live below the poverty line.

With its rapidly increasing population, Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries of the world, fully dependent on foreign financial assistance.

What is worse, social and political protests, which have led to riots, have had a negative impact on the much needed foreign investment.

The influx and extra burden of Rohingya refugees makes Bangladesh even weaker as a nation. Some Bengalis vocally show their dissatisfaction over the wave of Rohingyan refugees entering their country.

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Reihan Jafar, Human Rights Activist: “Our country is not a rich one. The world as well as knows it. Bangladesh cannot cope with this many refugees. The powerful Western countries though are just talking... they don’t do anything.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Solaiman Alam Sheth, Member of Bangeladesh Jatiya Party: If they take them away to somewhere else our problems will be solved. Our population is already 160 million - It is a lot for us to manage already.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Morteza Tofigh Islam, Photographer & Journalist: Even though Bangladesh is heavily-populated, it is somewhat willing to help; but due to the circumstances finds itself unable to help effectively. Moreover, many of its people want to help, too, but sending aid to the other side of the border is fraught with harassment and has become impractical.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Reihan Jafar, Human Rights Activist: “My question for the United Nations is - What is the main problem here? Why does the Myanmar government forcibly evict the Rohingya Muslims? Why doesn’t it allow these people residency status? They have been living there for more than 500 years.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Morteza Tofigh Islam, Photographer & Journalist: “They have been living there for more than 500 years. If the United Nation were to cooperate or intervene with Myanmar’s government, they could produce ID cards for the Rohingya and work to solve their problems.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Reihan Jafar, Human Rights Activist: “The United Nations could improve this situation. When they can free opposition leaders of Government such as Aung San Suu Kyi, why don’t they get step in to help resolve this conflict?”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Solaiman Alam Sheth, Member of Bangeladesh Jatiya Party: “We want some stability. Nowadays, people are looking for welfare! We are living in an era of world development. Just today hundreds of Rohingya arrived. We want them to stay in Myanmar.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Reihan Jafar, Human Rights Activist: “Establishment of a Rohingya agreement is the duty of Myanmar’s government. The Bangladesh government has no responsibility to them.

If Myanmar’s government has any religious, political, or social problem with these people, they should solve it by holding meetings and talks; not by evicting them.”

Narration: Endemic racism in the form of religious racism and nationalist racism is very much at the core of the issue and has become systematic in the Myanmar government to the point of driving extremist political decisions void of any humanitarian considerations. The outcome of course is that the Rohingyan people are slaughtered without remorse as the perpetrators feel justified in their brutality and are held unaccountable to the law. Rohingyans as a people are not permitted a collective voice nor do they have any powerful proponent or advocate promoting awareness, organized resistance, or a solution.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Conversation: “Can you find a way for going there?

Sure, we are trying to find a way, God willing. Even if we are unable to enter the camps we will be able to visit the suburbs. There are a lot of homeless people there. We will give it our best try.”

Narration:After crossing Naff River and managing to get into Bangladesh territory, the refugee’s of Myanmar arrive at Teknaf. Rohingya refugee camps are located in that area.

Efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees working with the Bangladesh government have led to the establishment of several refugee camps. Entry into the camps is permitted through an established legal process.

However, since 2012 the government of Bangladesh has not accepted Rohingya Muslim refugees and announced that they live in the country illegally. What this means is that the Rohingya cannot stay in the camps and if sighted around the area they are arrested.

The Bangladesh government does not allow our people to enter the refugee camps, but in spite of strict media boycott and other limitations, we decided to try to illegally enter a camp. So we traveled to Cox bazaar and stayed there for a couple of days to find a way to get into the camp. Unfortunately, we did not find a way so we returned to Chitagong. On our second trip with our friend, Zafar Khan, we traveled along the border areas hoping that we might be able to enter the camps from there.

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A woman, Local Citizen: “Muslims are forced to stay at home. They are not even allowed to turn on the lights at home or say prayers in the mosque. The Buddhists have killed our prayers! If a Muslim turns on a lamp in his home, they will burn down his house. If as they do this they find a young girl in the house, they will rape and kill her.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Host: “Is the charge correct that Muslims raped a Buddhist woman? No, it’s not. Do they ever dare to investigate?”

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A man, Local Citizen: “Young children are starving to death and Muslims can’t do anything about it or get out of the house because they are under siege.

If they find Muslims outside of their homes, they will kill them. So, Muslims can’t go anywhere and must starve to death in their own homes.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A woman, Local Citizen: “That’s why many try to escape to Bangladesh. They have killed some who have escaped as well as those who have aided them in their escape.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A man, Local Citizen: “If they want to sell their cow, goat, or chicken, they have to pay money to the Buddhists; even when their kids are born, they have to pay money.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A woman, Local Citizen: “Some Muslims dig a 2 to 3 meter deep hole in their homes and hide there.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A woman, Local Citizen: “They don’t let Muslims be buried in Muslim graveyards. They have erected buildings and constructions over the top of Muslim graveyards! Muslims have no choice but to bury their loved ones’ corpses in the mountainous areas.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A woman, Local Citizen: “If you go out, they will try to kill you, They say you are from Bangladesh and if we kill you or throw you into the sea, no country has the right to object.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] A woman, Local Citizen: “They do not let us reap our products when we farm. They do not let us go to the mosque to pray. They set fire to mosques at night. In the past, the army came, but now they come like ordinary people and kill innocent Muslims.”

TIME CODE: 30:00_34:00

Narration: Having witnessed the terrible conditions in the refugee camps, I began contemplating how to help them.

One of my friends told me about an NGO in Iran that works on human rights and that has collected humanitarian aid in Iran for the Rohingyan Muslim cause. After the aid was sent off amid great difficulties, we were able to distribute packages of bare necessities among the camps.

It is clear that this limited, temporary aid is not a long time solution to the problems of delivering these people and that is why this problem requires a universal determination…

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Rohingya Refugee: “Rohingyan Muslims are not granted citizenship in Myanmar, but everywhere considers them as Myanmari. That is why everything has turned out to be so difficult for them. In the area of Arakan most of the Muslims experience great troubles - being chased in their attempts to escape!”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Host: “You know that the Myanmar government has claimed that they do not belong to this country and that they are Bangladeshi.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Reihan Jafar, Human Rights Activist: “They should prove it! Words do not suffice; they have to present proof of it. Rohingyans have been living there for centuries. If the Myanmar government, using enough evidence, proves that Roohingyans are Bangladeshi…

The Bangladesh government is tolerating the influx and taking some temporary actions these days; but the burden is growing and there are some powerful Western countries, which now have to do something instead of merely discussing the issue - in fact we see that all their discussions have been stagnated.”

SOUNDBITE [Hindi] Member of Teknaf City Council, Bangladesh: “It’s better to provide Rohingyans with a place to live and facilities in their own country. Nobody likes to leave his or her motherland.”


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