Since 8th June, fleeing the desperate situation of the hidden genocide has been becoming the only worry for most Rohingyas. Government backed atrocities and brutalities of Rakhines, isolation of the area from the world and media, occurrence of such bloodshed without expectation and preparation, the dire living situation after the violence and desperation from a peaceful future in a short time are the main factors that make the Rohingyas risk every other hardship to escape.
The current exodus started when more than 15 boatloads of displaced people most of whom were elderlies, woman and children, were fleeing for the first time in the current massacre from Akyab (Sittwe) abroad rickety boats across the Bay of Bengal. Of which three boats were set fire by the Burmese military helicopter on their way, according to RFA report on 20 June.
“Helicopters opened fire on boats carrying Rohingya Muslims heading to Bangladesh and fleeing sectarian violence in west Burma, according to refugees who survived the sea ordeal.’’
After reaching the southernmost city of Bangladesh, Teknaf coast they were pushed back and then they tried to anchor at St. Martin Island also pushed back. And they were floating to and fro for four days according to Al-Jazeera interview in “the Hidden Genocide”.
There are frequent accidents of sinking and wracking of boats semi-monthly.
As the overt and group influx draws the attention of Bangladesh government authorities to security, the people began to cross the border individually. It is observed that there are tens of cases daily. Unfortunately, because of its extreme secrecy it isn’t going to be an issue locally or internationally. BDR has also several times arrested tens of Rohingya and jailed them under the act of illegal immigration and sometimes pushes back. The bribery seems to loosen the observation of the border by respective authorities in both sides. In addition, as the exodus is serving the interests of both Rakhines and Myanmar government, the local authorities turn a blind eye to the issue even without bribery.
While the Bangladesh government is tightening living of Rohingyas in its lands, they have turned their faces away from everywhere except Malaysia where approximately 40 thousands Rohingyas live already. In the past years human traffickers used to set sail from Teknaf. But nowadays there are direct trips from Maungdaw and Sittwe to Thailand as the Rakhine ALP members began trafficking in cooperation with Myanmar Government authorities especially NaSaKa.
As if it is a new measure Rakhines have adopted to eradicate Rohingya existence from the soil of Arakan. The Rakhine arm group called Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) that has played a vital role in the current violence has managed ships enough for 300 to 700 person of load. Their agents in Maungdaw and Buthidaung gather passengers (Rohingya youth and some women whose husbands had left Myanmar before) without charging anything in advance then and on condition of payment after arriving. Having arrived to Thailand, the traffickers charge big amounts of money. Then these people are brutally tortured and severely beaten to call their nearest kin or at least any known person for the payment of minimum 6000 RM. There are hundreds of Rohingyas are in blockage of traffickers in Thailand for more than one month who has nobody to call for help but had fled the violence first without thinking of his fate. If the amount is not managed, the traffickers sell them to some farmers, fishing boats, etc. like slaves where they have to do hard works like penal servitude until they reimburse the debt.
Interview with a victim
An interview with a victim released recently is conducted. Let’s listen to what he says about his perilous journey.
Q: What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?
A: My name is Sanaullah form Kuniafara (Zaw Mathet) village, Maungdaw. I am 21 years old.
Q: How did you know about how to come to Malaysia?
A: There are Rakhine agents in Maungdaw and their sub-agents (go-betweens) in villages. They offered us to get onto boat on no charge in advance. They said, “After you reach you just pay whatever you can. We are just helping you.”
Q: Can you please describe your journey?
A: A week after the bilateral oral agreement, they appointed us to be in Merullah Fara Village (a coastal village in southern Maungdaw). At around 1:00 am, we were led from the place we gathered in Merullah Fara village to a rickety boat at a local port by some Rakhine youth accompanied by 2 NaSaKa in civil dress having gun.
Our suffering started once we got onto the boat. It was a rickety boat and there were 96 Rohingyas. After riding about 24 hours, we reached to a ship and we were moved to it. There were already more than 200 boys and men and 6 women on the ship. We were totally 320 persons excluding the 8 Rakhine traffickers. It was not full load for the ship and the ship was about 9 feet out of the surface of water. They arranged us to sit in lines tightly and the women were kept in their cabins. Then we started the journey.
The traffickers have 4-5 kinds of flag, guns and some limited dry rations and water. They used to distribute among us something in every meal to survive. We can’t move from the lines we were sitting and had to seek permission even for toilet. They shot 7 of us who moved without permission and threw their dead bodies to the sea. They used to say nothing except scolding, beating, abusing and kicking. The women were used as their wives during the entire journey. The ship took six days to reach Thailand and was anchored far away from the shore.
Q: How have you got to Thailand and then to Malaysia?
A: Then some Thai navy or police approached to us and we were handed to them. They moved us abroad their boats to the shore and handed to some other Rakhines in Thailand. These Rakhines kept us in a building closed tight. There they began to beat us and torture us from time to time without giving enough foods and forced us to call our relatives anywhere or anyone we know for the payment. And I called my cousin in Saudi Arabia. When he was inline in phone the Rakhine beat me so much so that my cousin could hear my crying. After a humble request, he sent the required amount, RM 6,000 to somebody in Kuala Lumpur and the phone number of the traffickers. After a few days, they sent me and some others in a police car to the border and then we walked some distance on foot. Finally, we arrived to Kuala Lumpur by car and then by bus, where the friend of my cousin was waiting.
Q: Did the Thai police beat you?
Q: How many people are there in the building in Thailand they block you?
A: Maybe 3-4 hundreds.
The Exodus as a threat to Rohingya community
The current exodus is a dangerous threat to the last Rohingyas’ community in Arakan. The Rohingya community is already dispersed due to decades-old persecution. The diaspora began by the fall of Arakan in 1784. The Rohingyas in Arakan won’t outnumber them abroad. The ages of the migrants range between 15 and 35. It means that the community is losing its male members of the range 15 to 35 years old. There are almost daily trips. Every trip contains 300 to 700 migrants. Now the Rohingya community in Arakan consists of children, women and elderlies only. Last month in a data collection process for unregistered Muslim refugees from Myanmar, some 16,000 refugees have been recorded in Malaysia.
Neither these new refugees are yet granted ‘refugee status’ in the countries of refuge, nor the registered refugees are fully protected or cared by the responsible. Consequently, another phenomenon of illegal migration and human trafficking is seen that many registered and unregistered refugees are leaving Malaysia for Australia.
Yet for many Rohingya, the hope of a secure future overseas is worth all the risks.
Dire Situation in Northern Arakan
Rohingyas from western Arakan are in serious crisis of foods, medicine and other basic needs of their daily life. Arakan is an undeveloped and rural region except the downtowns and the most of the Rohingyas are daily labors, farmers and fishermen by profession – a day without work means a day of starvation for the whole family. But since June, schools, Madrasahs, Mosques and other religious centers are locked. Markets that supply daily needs were looted or burnt. Border Trade activities are not secure to do. Rohingyas’ movement is restricted more than ever. Curfew is not raised yet. There are frequent cases of rape, loot, arrest, money extortion and shooting. Yesterday’s rich has gone out to foot-path today to look for a bite of rice or a piece of bread. They can’t do any agricultural or business activity freely. Field-full of over-ripe paddy and vegetables lay down the earth. Nobody can renew his house leaf-roof even in the rain season or repair his woody or bamboo house.
Arakan Liberation Party (ALP)
ALP is a Rakhine separatist Movement founded in 1967, and its arm-wing was founded in 1974. ALP opened its first liaison office in Kyauktaw, Arakan (Rakhine) State, on Monday 3rd September to conduct peace negotiations with the government.
ALP is a prominent activist in the current massacre and has played a vital role like RNDP as it has a strong arm-wing.
On the other hand, the ALP signed a cooperation agreement with “Arakan Rohingya Islamic Font (ARIF)” and “Revolutionary National Party (RNP)” in 1989 i.e. after the 1982’s citizenship law, where they recognized ‘Rohingya’!