Karachi, September 18 (Express Tribune/Reuters): The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Jamaat-e-Islami chief and Milli Yakjehti Council Provincial President Mushtaq Ahmad has said that the Rohingiya Muslims residing in Karachi should be given Pakistani citizenship and other fundamental human rights.
Addressing a news conference after holding the provincial executive council meeting of the Milli Yakjehti Council, Ahmad who was flanked by chief of Jamiat Ulamae Islam (Noorani) Allama Syed Norul Hasnain Gilani said: “The Myanmar government is responsible for carrying out brutalities on Rohingya Muslims,” demanding, “[All such steps] should be stopped immediately.”
The alliance consists of around 25 religious parties and groups.
In the meeting of the council it was decided that protests will be held across the province on September 22 against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Mushtaq Ahmad said that international human rights bodies should intervene in resolving the Rohingya crisis. When asked about Rohingya Muslims residing in Karachi, he said that they should also be given citizenship.
“The council considers ‘Kalma Tayeeba’ as visa. If the Rohingyas living in Karachi want to get Pakistani citizenship, they should be facilitated in this regard,” Ahmad said.
About the silent role of Islamic countries, Ahmad said that they wondered if Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) were helping victims of floods in the United States (US) then why were they not helping the Muslims suffering in Myanmar.
The council wished there could be separate United Nations, and separate alliance of the security forces of Islamic countries so that they could help the Muslims persecuted in several parts of the world, he said.
Reuters adds: For an estimated 300,000 Rohingya Muslims living in squalor in Pakistan’s largest city, the news from Myanmar in the past two weeks is reviving painful memories of the violence that drove many of them here half a century ago.
Some say they have got word of relatives being killed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state or are not being able to contact family members.
Karachi’s Rohingya community comprises migrants from an earlier era of displacement dating back to the 1960s and ‘70s. Despite decades in a foreign land, they have stayed in touch with family back home, especially in recent years through mobile phones and social media.
In the past two weeks, nearly 300,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military launched an offensive in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police posts and an army base. Hundreds of homes in Rohingya villages have been burned and about 400 people have been killed.
The older members of Karachi’s Rohingya community fled from a repressive military regime that took power in 1962, escaping on foot or by boat to Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan. Eventually, they made their way to Karachi.
Most of the people living in the slum called Arakanabad were born in Pakistan, or fled violence in their homeland decades ago. It’s named for Arakan, which was what Rakhine used to be called.
Raheela Sadiq, a more recent migrant who came to Pakistan 15 years ago, said she has been unable to contact relatives in Rakhine via mobile phone for nearly two weeks.
“I have seen what is happening to people over there on the internet,” she said as tears filled her eyes.
Videos and pictures depicting violence in Rakhine and shared on social media are passed around quickly in Arakanabad, adding to fears and anxiety about relatives back home.
Fisherman Noor Mohammed, 50, said three members of his family in Rakhine were killed a few days ago.
“My brother, brother-in-law, and nephew were there (in Rakhine). They are all dead now. The army over there killed them,” he said, adding that he heard the news from another nephew who is still alive.
Hoor Bahar, 60, said she left Rakhine with her husband over 30 years ago when her mother and sister were killed.
“I have one sister left who went to Bangladesh seven to 10 days ago,” she added. However, she said, her sister is being held on a beach by boatmen who brought her from Rakhine and are demanding $350 as payment.
No Legal Status
Arakanabad smells of fish. The Rohingya who live here largely work on fishing boats, or clean the catch brought by fishermen who set sail from the nearby Korangi Creek.
Most of them say they are not able to obtain Pakistani identity cards, essential for opening bank accounts, enrolling children in schools, using public hospitals, and even getting a job.
“There is no policy in Pakistan for the Rohingya,” said Noor Hussain, the Pakistan head of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, pointing out that the without state-issued identity cards the community cannot progress.
Thousands of Rohingya families are crammed into the one-room cement brick houses that line the narrow streets of Arakanabad.
Children play amidst knee-high garbage, and crowd around to share slices of jello topped with sugar, or other sweetmeats sold by hawkers.
“The community is living in extremely difficult circumstances, and our youth is being destroyed because they cannot get an education,” said Hussain.
Despite the poverty, the community raised around 1.5 million rupees ($15,000) over the Eid al-Adha holidays earlier this month to help refugees fleeing Rakhine.
“Our community is not a burden on Pakistan,” Hussain said.
“The government of Pakistan is making millions of dollars by exporting the fish our people catch,” he said, adding that giving citizenship rights to the Rohingya would only benefit the country.
(The featured picture at the top shows the Karachi Rohingyas who are mainly fisherfolk)