By Muhammad Ahmed Zeeshan
12 October 2017
Pakistani channels and government officials have unanimously condemned the situation in Myanmar. The government recently passed a resolution, calling the persecution of Muslims in Rakhine state a “genocide”; however, it has so far made no moves to change its policy on the resettlement of Rohingya refugees in Pakistan, who are classified as “illegal immigrants.” Their condemnation of Myanmar’s forces smacks of hypocrisy and vile opportunism. The government and opinion makers continue being silent on the plight of Rohingyas in our own Pakistan. Meanwhile, they continue to use the Rohingya Muslims—victims of barefaced ethnic cleansing—to sketch out a “world against us” narrative that not only appeals to Pakistanis but also beefs up vote banks and TV ratings.
It’s rather surprising to note that many Pakistanis are not even aware of the fact that Rohingyas are living in abysmal conditions in the country for decades; they face discrimination, and their quality of life is dismal, to say the least. They are unable to obtain citizenship, and find it extremely difficult to access even the most basic facilities—such as health and education.
According to reliable reports, over 300,000 Rohingya people are currently living in Karachi, and only 100,000 have been granted nationality while the rest continue to face problems as they cannot even roam freely in the city. Their only source of income is fishing but they face a dilemma of not being allowed to do it due to ‘security concerns’. It is almost impossible for them to get jobs; the worst part is that Rohingya here are often harassed by law enforcement agencies—who often view them as “illegal aliens” constituting a threat to the national security of the country.
A large majority of Pakistan’s Rohingya still remain “stateless aliens” in a country which has miserably failed to see them as its own Muslim citizens. Many of Pakistan’s Rohingya see themselves betrayed by a false notion of a promised land, and all they get to hear are hypocritical speeches. The problems faced by Rohingya in Pakistan are not much different from what they face in Myanmar, where they are also denied the right of citizenship because the predominantly Buddhist Burmese consider them ‘Bangladeshi’, whereas Bangladesh government says they’re Burmese. Activist and spokesperson for the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, Noor Hussain Akrani, in an interview, said he believes the time has come for the Pakistani government to recognise Rohingyas as equal citizens.
“We (the Rohingya) are an oppressed nation which works hard wherever we go; we work in factories, our women and children weave mats in homes. If a child is born, our mothers and sisters are not able to give birth in hospitals, our children are deprived of education, they don’t have access to state schools, we are living a very difficult life. Nothing will change until we are given citizenship by Pakistan. Where else will we go?” he said.
A report published by the UNHCR this year stated that the Pakistani government “hosts a yet to be determined number of persons who are stateless or at risk of statelessness due to unresolved nationality issues.” These include the Rohingya settled in Karachi.
As per the state’s policy, the Rohingya do not qualify as asylum seekers or refugees, and the idea of brotherhood of Islam is only to be used in speeches, not acted upon. There has never been an attempt to think about the rights of stateless people; hence the future of Rohingya in Pakistan is in limbo.
Moreover, the government of Pakistan and Myanmar are also in “advanced negotiations” to license-build the JF-17 Thunder aircraft, which is jointly developed by China and Pakistan. The first of 16 imported JF-17s ordered by Myanmar are expected to reach them later this year. One can only imagine what message that gives to the Rohingyas of Pakistan as well as Myanmar.
The solidarity with Rohingya shoulder better start at home. The situation in Myanmar is nothing new but the question remains: are the authorities in Pakistan serious in their stance with respect to the suffering of Rohingyas? If yes, then how can they expect the Myanmar regime to give Rohingyas their rights when they, too, are busy side-lining them at home. Are Pakistan’s Rohingya children of a lesser god?