During a recent research trip to Bangladesh, Refugees International Senior Advocates Dan Sullivan and Francisca Vigaud-Walsh conducted an interview with Mayyu Ali, one of the tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees who now live in camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Mayyu described the conditions for the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
RI: What was life like for you as a Rohingya Muslim in Myanmar, before you came to Bangladesh?
Mayyu: My life fell apart when I was one year old. My birth certificate was confiscated by Nasaka, the Myanmar security force in Rakhine State at the time. When I grew up I came to find that the world where my parents live was severely restricted in terms of movement, medical facilities, education services, religious affairs, and even for giving birth to children and marriage approval. It is just because of who we are.
Since violence started in June 2012, life changed from restriction to extermination. I was forced to stop attending Sittwe University where I was in my second year toward a B. A. in English. I was desperate. Again, there was violence in October 2016, clearance operations launched and coordinated by the Myanmar army and Border Guard Police. Many were killed and forced to flee to Bangladesh. The most recent violence began on August 25, 2017.
RI: When did you leave Myanmar?
Mayyu: I crossed the border on September 6, 2017, after my home and village were burnt down and my neighbors killed.
RI: What is life like in the camps in Bangladesh?
Mayyu: Nothing is easy in camp life. We need much more for our health and safety. We feel safe compared to when we look back to the fear in Myanmar of being arrested, imprisoned, and killed. But we are not free here in the camps. No one is allowed to go to Cox’s Bazar [the closest city]. Now, the camps are becoming the black market for human trafficking. This should not be happening, but nothing seems to have been able to stop it yet.
RI: What are the main concerns of Rohingya in the camps?
Mayyu: Among the main concerns are not having enough secure and safe shelters, formal education centers for children, nor enough water supply and sanitation sources, especially in the parts of the camps where management is lacking. Also, we are concerned about the protection for children, women and girls, that they not to be kidnapped and trafficked. Finally, we are worried about proper handling of preparations for the coming monsoons.
RI: Do you want to go back to Myanmar?
Mayyu: I should go. Myanmar is our motherland where my forefathers, my parents, and I were born. But what I want is not to be going back to Myanmar and fleeing to Bangladesh again and again. All I want is to be granted my national rights and citizenship in Myanmar. So, right now, going back to Myanmar is not going back home in Myanmar. It is going from one camp in Bangladesh to another camp in Myanmar. There they have been constructing IDP camps [Internally Displaced Persons camps] in Maungdaw, so they would keep us inside there like other Rohingyas in Sittwe.
RI: What is the situation for Rohingya in Myanmar now?
Mayyu: In Myanmar, there are some thousands of Rohingya still inside. Still the human rights violations are continuing. Last week, a dead body was floating in the stream of Taung Bazaar in Northern Buthidaung. Sources say the man is a Rohingya clerk from Taung Bazaar killed by BGP [Border Guard Patrol] and thrown into the water. No one dares to bury the dead. Moreover, no one is allowed to move one place to another. They can’t access markets, schools, health centers, or mosques. All are in fear and despair.
RI: What can the international community do to help?
Mayyu: The international community should do much more. It is not enough just to expose the denial of the Myanmar government that they have committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya people. The world should intervene immediately before too many more are dead. To my feeling, being a victim of this ongoing genocide, there can’t be a sustainable resolution for Rohingya until there are enough sympathetic hearts to stand firmly with us. At the same time, all should support development for the Rohingya community whom have been deprived the right to education for a decade, so that the Rohingya community can stand on our own feet.