Thursday 30 May 2013

Source newscomau, 29 May

Rohingya Muslims in 2012 trying to cross the Naf river into Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence in Myanmar. AFP PHOTO/Munir uz Zaman Source: AFP

IMAGINE that officially, you don't exist.

You are denied citizenship, not allowed to go to university, and your people have suffered years of mass killings and violence to which the government has turned a blind eye.

Just this week, the government has slapped you with a restriction on childbirth that critics say is equivalent to ethnic cleansing.

You must be a member of the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority the United Nations describes as "the most oppressed people on earth".

This week one of Australia's tiny Rohingya community of 2000 is taking the plight of his people for the first time to the Federal Government to ask for help in stopping what some believe is state-sanctioned genocide.

Despite the fact they have lived in Myanmar, formerly Burma, since the 8th Century, the Rohingya were wiped off government records in 1982 when Myanmar enacted a citizenship law.

"They reduced the number of ethnic groups from 143 to 135, so we were made stateless and regarded as illegal immigrants, without rights or recognition," said Mohammed Anwar, who is leader of the Burmese Rohingya Community Australia and lives in Sydney.

Myanmar's 135 recognised ethnic groups all have more rights than the Rohingya people, who have
suffered serial persecution, including the razing of villages and mass killings carried out by Buddhist extremists and even monks.

This week, the government declared that Rohingya families in villages bordering Bangladesh can have no more than two children. It is believed to be the only such policy that targets a specific religious group.

"We are third grade people in Burma. We are not allowed to go on to higher education," said Mr Anwar, who fled to Turkey to gain his degree in engineering before emigrating to Australia.

Rohingyans who have escaped into the countries bordering Myanmar such as Bangladesh are also denied recognition by those countries and are forced to live in squalid camps threatened by rising sea levels.

Mr Anwar said Rohingyans would be barred from voting in next year's election in Myanmar and while he did not condone illegal refugee boat people, he could understand their desperation.

He would meet with Australian Foreign Affairs minister, Senator Bob Carr, this week.

"I have been sending him letters and finally he has agreed to meet," Mr Anwar said. "We need Australia's help to get official recognition of our people in Burma."

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