Mohammed Ayuf is a 16-year old Myanmar Rohingya. Myanmar has been his family’s home for as long as they can trace back. His grandparents were born in Rakhine before World War II, and his parents were raised in Sittwe. His father, Shafiq Ahmed, remembers living in the city where there were dozens of mosques and Islamic schools. Shafiq started a small grocery store business in a market in Narzi. This is where Mohammed would spend most of his time growing up and over the last few years where he would predominately cook and sell samosas. This was before his home was bulldozed and he was forced into a camp in his own native country. Now, Mohammed and his family are forced into a hut where his daily routine consists of waking up, praying at a mosque, and returning to the hut. Because the hut is so small, he normally sleeps outside on the hard ground so as not to discomfort his parents. His older brother left Myanmar two years ago to try and escape these horrible conditions and live a better life in Malaysia where he could earn some kind of menial income to support himself and his family. Mohammed wanted to join him and do the same.
Little did Mohammed know how dangerous the journey from Myanmar to Malaysia would be. His brother warned Mohammed not to try and join him and explained that life will not get any easier. Mohammed, however, did not listen. He wanted to go to Malaysia and work in a factory like his brother so he could support his family. He explained, “My mind was just focused on how I could make some money and help [my] family.” As such, one night he snuck away and went towards the smugglers along the Bay of Bengal. He reached a beach where there was a small fishing boat was waiting for him and 16 others who wished to escape for a better life. Once the boat reached sea, he was shifted onto a larger vessel that had hundreds abroad, including very small children and pregnant women. Mohammed and the other travellers would be forced to lie flat on the dirty floor of the boat so as not to be detected by passing ships. If anyone disobeyed, they would be beaten with a metal chain or burned by a cigarette. At one point Mohammed accidentally stood up at the wrong time and one of the smugglers cut him with a knife three times on his arm. During the two week trip, Mohammed and the other passengers would be given a spoonful or two of rice sprinkled with chili powder each day. Mohammed endured this, however, with the hope that he would be reunited with his brother soon and that he would be able to earn some income to help his family out. This was far from the case. News came to Mohammed’s ship that Malaysian authorities were interdicting boats carrying migrants. As a result, the smugglers cancelled the trip and returned to Myanmar.
Once the ship reached Myanmar, despite not making it to Malaysia as promised, the smugglers still demanded $200 per passenger. Mohammed did not have sufficient funds to pay and so he was handed over to the police in a city near Sittwe. Mohammed was shocked to see that the Myanmar police, instead of protecting its people, was working so closely with the smugglers. Mohammed’s father found out he was being held by the police and arranged for a loan to bail him out. Mohammed is now back in the camps where he explains “there’s nothing to do here but go to the mosque…all I do is think about the future.” Mohammed’s father suspects that Mohammed and his friends are planning to escape this spring when “smuggling season” begins again. His mother, Amina, explained “if people start leaving again by boat, he will follow.”
It saddens me that we are into 2016 and the Myanmar Rohingya are still facing endless barbarisms. The government of Myanmar denies the Myanmar Rohingya equal rights that other citizens of Myanmar are granted as they claim that the Rohingya are not true citizens of Myanmar. In fact, last year departing president Thein Sein signed four bills into law that regulated interfaith marriage, religious conversion and birth spacing that was a clear target towards the Myanmar Rohingya. Further, thousands of Rohingya have been stripped of their citizenship and are sent to concentration camps where they are denied basic health care, jobs, and even food. They are held like prisoners in their own home and their movement is heavily restricted. How is it possible that the Myanmar Rohingya are being denied citizenship rights when they are truly citizens? Is having generations of family tied to the country for decades not enough to prove their citizenship? What else do the Myanmar Rohingya need to do to attain the same rights as the other citizens of Myanmar? What else do they need to do to have a place they can call home? Mohammed should not have to escape his country to be able to get a job and live in humane conditions. Mohammed’s parents should not have to fear being separated from another one of their children for the sole purpose of basic survival. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party recently won the election and Myanmar is currently preparing for it’s political shift in March. Suu Kyi has already taken action to try and end conflicts between Myanmar’s military and armed ethnic groups. She has also promised to bring greater economic opportunity to Myanmar. Why is it that she has not yet said any word on the Myanmar Rohingya? The world has continued to watch and speak out against the persecution of the Rohingya, yet Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner has yet to address or take any actions to solve the endless plight of the Myanmar Rohingya. I sincerely hope that as Suu Kyi’s party takes leadership, Suu Kyi takes an active role in resolving the Rohingya crisis and allowing them to live peacefully in their rightful home and country.