As a delegation of UN Security Council arrives in Bangladesh today, a Rohingya lawyer and rights activist has urged the UN body to save the ethnic community from the "endless genocide".
“Still, there is time to save us [Rohingyas]. I urge the UN Security Council to do everything that needs to be done to save us from destruction,” said Razia Sultana, a coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition and senior researcher at Kaladan Press, a news portal of Rohingya.
She fled to Bangladesh in the 1980s and became a lawyer with a mission to fight for rights of her community in Myanmar. Recently, she has made a presentation at the UN, showing how rape was used as a weapon of war in Rakhine since late August.
The atrocities by Myanmar security forces have caused an influx of around 700,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh. They have been entering Bangladesh since the 80s to escape persecution, but the latest one is the largest that reportedly left thousands of Rohingyas killed.
There is no guarantee of their citizenship until now despite huge global criticism. The UNSC also failed to take any concrete action to address the decades-old Rohingya crisis.
As the UNSC delegation visits Bangladesh and Myanmar to see on the ground the situation of the Rohingyas, Razia said it is high time the Council acted.
In a telephone interview with The Daily Star from Chittagong, Razia said Arakan (now Rakhine) is their motherland where they were born and grew up and that their identity is Rohingya, not Bangalee.
“Despite that, the Myanmar authorities have been branding us as Bangalees and migrants from Bangladesh. Is it just because we are Muslims and have some similarities with those of the Bangalees?” she posed a question.
She said the Rohingyas have been facing extreme violence since the enactment of a 1982 law that deprived them of their citizenship. Eventually, they were denied government jobs and higher education opportunities.
“The Rohingyas were not allowed to choose subjects to study. If anyone from the Rohingya community wanted to study engineering or medicine, they were told that they could not do that,” Razia said, referring to the 90s.
After 1990, the Rohingyas were not permitted to study at universities. After 2012, the Rohingyas have been totally deprived of university education. They can study only up to class-X in Akyab and up to class-VIII in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, she said.
Even at schools, the girls have to face various restrictions and discrimination from the Buddhists. The Rohingya boys are being often beaten up by the Buddhist students under a policy of segregation by the Myanmar authorities, said Razia.
“There are almost no healthcare services for the Rohingya in Rakhine. They often take passes to get into Bangladesh [from the authorities concerned of Myanmar] for treatment.”
And, there are two types of cards -- one is national verification card (NVC) that allows the Rohingyas to move within one para (small neighbourhood) and the other one is Tajkkaya, which is used for movement from one para to another.
One has to spend money equivalent to Tk 3,000 to get an NVC card and Tk 10,000 for a Tajkkaya card. Those who want to go to towns from villages will need to pay hefty sums and they are given a limited time, she said.
Since 1990s, Myanmar armed forces have a regular presence in the Rohingya-dominant regions. They have taken possession of much of the land of Rohingyas.
“We are treated as illegal people there. It is not less than a prison,” Razia said, adding that such treatment to the Rohingya community in the early years was known as “slow genocide”, which has now become “endless genocide”.
It is only the UN Security Council that can save the Rohingya community from the “endless genocide”, she said.
“There are 135 ethnic communities in Myanmar. Myanmar should declare us as an ethnic community, Rohingya. We don't want to get into Myanmar as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. We want full citizenship in Rakhine where we can enjoy all rights just like the citizens of Myanmar,” Razia said.