Myanmar Stays Indifferent: FM

The train journey portrays a false sense of freedom of movement for the Rohingya who, together with other Muslims, are interned in the displaced persons camps by security forces. The government and the military have claimed these rules are enforced to protect the Muslim community from further violence. The beginning and end point of the train journey, both located on the other side of the barbed wire, are out of bounds for Muslim travelers.

Inside the train, the Rohingya are further constrained. The train consists of a single carriage, divided into three smaller compartments. Muslim passengers are restricted to the central compartment and Rakhine Buddhists travel in the smaller sections at the front and end of the train. Neither Muslim nor Buddhist passengers protest these conditions and the train personnel is seemingly indifferent to their role in enforcing them, saying it only “makes sense.” After the Rohingya have boarded the train, two police officers get on too and find a seat in the compartment that, although unlabeled, all passengers know is reserved for Buddhist travelers.

Overgrown leaves and branches scrape the side of the train as it bumps along the track. Rohingya passengers chat among themselves while the train staff and police officers crack jokes and take selfies. The fans on the ceiling hang still overhead and the oppressive heat becomes unbearable for one of the officers, who removes his jacket and walks around the cabin in a sleeveless white shirt.

The train picks up speed and children press their noses against the window to get a good look at the small villages that line the track. The houses are made of wood and many roofs are sealed with large pieces of plastic. Once small settlements, the villages are now engulfed by hundreds of make-shift houses built by the thousands of Muslims displaced from the city. Behind these flimsy constructions malnourished children play with whatever they have found on the rail.

The train that runs through IDP camps in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

After a few more stops, the conductor announces the train will soon be halting near one of the markets inside the camp area and many passengers prepare to disembark. As soon as the train stops, the conductor urges people off, not wanting to waste too much time at the busy stop. Though not all Rohingya passengers understand the orders the conductor barks at them in the Rakhine language, soon enough the market-goers have descended from the carriage.

The train continues and will eventually stop in a village a three-hour walk from any paved road. The usual route takes travelers from Sittwe University on one side of the camp area to the Technological University of Sittwe on the other, but at the time of writing the track was broken beyond the village. The train will stop in this remote settlement for a few hours before passing the market again on its way back to the center of Sittwe.

People chat at the track while they watch the engine, painted in the red and yellow colors of the Myanmar Railways, slowly disappear out of sight. Then the women lift their empty baskets and walk to the market. Large, four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying officials from aid organizations carefully pass them on the narrow street. Lined with shops selling anything from fruit to gold on both sides, the market street is crowded. Many of the gold shops are operated by Rakhine Buddhists who dive away from cameras, afraid that people from within their community would turn against them for doing business with Muslims.

Not far from the market are the displaced persons camps of Baw Du Pha and Thet Kel Pyin, named after the two villages they are next to. Large, U.N.-supplied tents have been erected in some places, while elsewhere refugees have built small houses themselves with whatever money they have left. Their internment in the camps means that most Rohingya have no opportunity to earn money and many depend on aid agencies for meals.

The Rohingya lost their right to vote

The Rohingya have faced state-sponsored discrimination for decades but their plight worsened severely when, only months before the 2015 election, they lost their right to vote. The lack of job opportunities and poor education and health facilities in the camps have pushed many Rohingya onto rickety boats and into the hands of smugglers as they risk their lives attempting to flee across the Bay of Bengal.

Many Muslims who stayed say that they counted on Aung San Suu Kyi to change their lives for the better but, months after her government assumed office, hope is fading. “I supported her for a long time, but now she says there is no Rohingya,” says Mohammed Elliot, a 40-year-old father of five who lives in Thet Kel Pyin village. The government started a citizenship verification scheme that, despite no longer requiring Rohingya to register as Bengali as was a condition under the previous administration, has been marred by distrust and Rohingya refuse to cooperate. Meanwhile, Buddhist nationalists have protested a request made by Aung San Suu Kyi in her role as state counsellor to stop using the terms Rohingya and Bengali to refer to the Muslims living in Rakhine State, because of the strong political connotations attached to both. Internationally, the Nobel prize winner has been criticized for not doing enough to end the oppression of the Rohingya.

In the face of this criticism at home and abroad, Aung San Suu Kyi has requested former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to help find a solution to the ongoing plight of the Muslim community in Rakhine State. Protests welcomed him in Sittwe during his first visit as head of the Rakhine commission on September 6. Demonstrators said the involvement of foreigners in the state’s affairs violated Myanmar’s sovereignty.

Source :

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