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Rohingya in Pakistan complain of discrimination

Shah Meer Baloch Karachi
September 25, 2017

Pakistan's government and Islamic groups have criticized Myanmar for its "persecution" of the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. But how is Pakistan treating its own Rohingyas who have been living in the country for decades?

Pakistan Rohingyas in Karachi
Image: DW/S. Meer Baloch/Z. Musyani

"I am a Rohingya, but a Pakistani Rohingya. I speak Bengali and that is why most people call us Bengali in our area. They don't accept us as Pakistanis," Mufiz Ur Rehman, a Rohingya based in Karachi's Arakan Abad area, told DW.

Arakan Abad is named after Myanmar's Arakan state, also known as Rakhine. This state in Myanmar's west is currently witnessing a Rohingya exodus following clashes between militants and the Southeast Asian country's security forces. Over 400,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighboring Bangladesh following the start of the latest conflict on August 25, when around 100 armed Muslim insurgents attacked security guards in the border region with Bangladesh.

Pakistan Rohingyas in Karachi
The Arakan Abad slum in Karachi lacks basic facilitiesImage: DW/S. Meer Baloch/Z. Musyani

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority in Myanmar, which originates from the Indian sub- continent. For several centuries they have lived predominantly in Rakhine. They are predominately Muslim. The Rohingya are not officially recognized by the government as citizens and for decades Myanmar's Buddhist majority has been accused of subjecting them to discrimination and violence.

Viewed by the United Nations and the United States as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh flee their countries every year in a desperate attempt to reach the mainly Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Apart from Myanmar and Bangladesh, Rohingya are settled in India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, and also Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan, which is home to anywhere between 40,000 and 250,000 Rohingyas, lodged an official protest with Myanmar's government over its treatment of the ethnic minority. But the Rohingyas living in Pakistan find it hypocritical as they say they face discrimination in the Muslim-majority country and are forced to live in poor conditions.

Read more: Suu Kyi's Rohingya speech: Too little, too late?

Infografik Rohingya Bevölkerung ENG


Nasir Ahmed told DW about the poor living standards in the Arakan Abad slum. "We are living in a slum. The living conditions are abysmal here." 

The area lacks basic facilities. There are no hospitals in Arakan Abad. The Rohingya people live in dilapidated houses, with families crammed in small rooms. Mufiz Ur Rehman lives with 20 other Rohingya in a tiny apartment.

There are around 100,000 Rohingyas in Arakan Abad, according to Nur Hussain Arkani, president of the Burmese Muslim Welfare Organization. Most of them are fishermen, whereas some work in the garment factories.

Read more: Rohingya people in Myanmar: what you need to know

"I have never been to Myanmar," said Rehman. "I just know that my father migrated from Myanmar to Pakistan. But I have seen what is happening in Myanmar on TV. It is heart wrenching to see that our people are being persecuted in Myanmar and no one is helping them."

The 75-year-old Rahmat Ali, who came to Pakistan from Myanmar in the early 1970s, said the current Rakhine crisis is worse than ever.

Pakistan Rohingyas in Karachi
'I have not been accepted as a Pakistani," Rahmat Ali, a fisherman by profession, told DWImage: DW/S. Meer Baloch/Z. Musyani

"Myanmar has not changed its attitude towards Rohingya. The torture and genocide are continuing, but this time around it is much worse," Ali told DW.

Ali said it is hard to make a living in Pakistan. "I lived in Rakhine, escaped genocide there and made my way to Pakistan in the early 1970s through Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan. One of my daughters, Zohra Khatoon, still lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh," Ali said.

"I have been living in Pakistan for more than four decades but I have not been accepted as a Pakistani. For Pakistanis, we are Bengalis and refugees," Ali added.

Read more: Rohingya crisis: Exiled blogger describes Myanmar violence

No proof of citizenship

Rohingya living in Karachi's Arakan Abad area also told DW they could not apply for government jobs in Pakistan.

"We don't possess the country's National Identity Card, hence we are ineligible for government jobs," a Pakistani Rohingya told DW.

Many Rohingya and Bengalis, however, have obtained illegal identification documents in Pakistan.

The Rohingya also face social discrimination in the South Asian country.

"There should be no place for Rohingya in Pakistan. They are Indian agents. They should leave the country. The authorities' crackdown on them is justified. They are not Pakistanis," a rickshaw driver told DW.

Abul Hussain, who came to Pakistan from Rakhine in 1968, is still living as a refugee in Karachi.

"We are harassed by police because we don't have identification documents. Many Rohingya fishermen from Pakistan, who are caught by the Indian coastguard, can't prove they are Pakistanis because they don't possess Pakistan's citizenship. We are the ultimate stateless people," Hussain told DW.

"We are being killed in Myanmar. We are being tortured in Pakistan," Hussain said.