KARACHI - The stateless hundreds of Rohingya Muslims living in the city face an uncertain future considering Pakistan does not recognise them as refugees. The UNHCR has not issued them refugee cards like the Afghans. They cannot move freely in the city and often face harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies.
Every day when they hear news about the genocide in Myanmar they are disturbed and worried about their fate. President of Burmese Muslim Welfare Organization Noor Hussain Arkani said tears come into his eyes when he hears the stories of genocide from his relatives and friends who have reached Balamkhali, Kotpalang Camp in the last two weeks. He was talking to The Nation in Ibrahim Haideri area. “I am in regular contact with my close relatives and friends who have left Myanmar for good. My first cousin 61-year-old Noor Ahmed, and his son and my sister’s son Mahmudullah, my brother’s son Abdul Hussain all are in constant touch with me. They need our help to end the misery they are facing. The camps have no basic facilities.”
Arakani said his organization is registered and its audit is done every year. “We help the Rohingya people in Bangladesh and Myanmar as much as we can. On last Eidul Azha, we sacrificed 35 cows, six goats in the camps in Bangladesh.
“There are about 300,000 Rohingya people living in Karachi. Of them more than 100,000 have become Pakistani nationals. The rest don’t have national identity cards due to which they can’t freely move in the city.
“The only resource of our income is fishing but the dilemma today is we are not even allowed to do it. Police arrest us and we have to bribe them from Rs10,000 to Rs 15,000 when caught in the act. Migration of Bengalis and Burmese started in 1970’s which continued till 1998. I came in Karachi in the era of President Ayub Khan, who had served in Burma and had soft corner for us. At that time hundreds of Rohingya settled in Karachi. Our elders were provided national identity cards at that time but now Nadra refuses to help us.”
“We are deprived of basic facilities such as safe drinking water, education, health, proper sewerage and jobs. A girl can’t even give birth to a child because she can’t be admitted to hospital. My request to the government is that Rohingya people are also a part of Pakistan so they should be provided basic rights as others have. Our youngsters are forced to become criminals when they don’t have any other choice,” he said.
PML-N MPA from Ibrahim Hyderi, Shafi Muhammad Jamote, said that non-issuance of the CNICs was one of the main issues Burmese are facing. He said he devised a mechanism with the help of federal government to ensure validation and extension of identity cards.
“Verification from a grade 18 or above or an MPA is needed now for extension in validity of NIC. I have verified the forms of several of their community members,” he said.
Shafi said that the situation of sanitation was worse in the area due to encroachments from certain people having support from ruling provincial party leader on the main sewerage line of the area.
“Since I am in opposition, therefore, the government is not giving any funds for improving infrastructure in the area but I have submitted proposals for construction of a main road leading to the area and RO plant and sewerage line,” the MPA said adding that the projects are likely to be part of Rs25 billion package from the federal government for Karachi.
He said the other basic issue for the community in the area is burial of their loved ones in the graveyard as they are charged up to Rs15,000 for burial.
“We have asked the provincial government to provide a space for the purpose but there has been no response,” Shafi said.
The MPA said that they are in contact with the authorities to overcome inclination of youth of the area towards crime and work on it to improve the situation.
Most of residents claim that they are not able to open bank accounts, enroll children in schools, use public hospitals and get permission to catch fish.
Principal of Isra School at Arkanabad, Maulana Kareemullah, 39, said he decided to launch a school for his community in 2008.
“There are nine teachers in the school imparting education to students up to Matriculation. There is a Bengali organization that used to provide us funds which has now stopped doing so. The organization now claims that they are investing to build a mosque. We are facing problem in running the school.”
“The community people are more inclined towards religion and prefer to send their children to Madaris (seminaries). My relatives in Rakhine (Arakan) province were killed a few months ago. The video of the whole family was also uploaded on Internet. It is my humble request to the government to make a policy for our community and do not let our young generation go astray,” he said.
Fisherman Abdul Shakoor, 30, said his source of income is fishing. “I work for a company and pack more than 5,000 fish per day for them which is later sent to foreign countries. My people are not allowed to do fishing; we are living in extremely difficult circumstances. If we try to fish we are thrown into jail,” Shakoor said.
Another fisherman Zubair, 19, said, “Sindhi people living in Ibrahim Hyderi are harsh. They don’t let us work freely. When I used to fish in sea my income was good and family was happy. Now I work under Sindhi people who rule on us and treat us like slaves in our own community,” Zubair said.
Meanwhile, speaking on condition of anonymity, a police official having expertise in countering terrorism, said that youth from the area was also found involved in terrorist activities and had association with terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
“We have nabbed several suspects from the area involved in such activity,” he said.
He said that there had been a rising trend of militancy and other anti-social activities in the area, which was due to lack of access to the education and better livelihood, paving way for the militant outfits to recruit some of them.