KARACHI: Noor Hussain Arkani, president of the Burmese Muslim Welfare Organization in Pakistan, represents the 300,000-strong Rohingya community, one of the oldest refugee populations in the country, having arrived more than 50 years ago.
“Just because we’re immigrants who took refuge in Pakistan, doesn’t mean we’re a liability to the country,” Arkani, who has seen three generations of Rohingya living in the city of Karachi, told Arab News.
“We provide cheap and efficient labor to factories. We export fish. We’re the backbone of the carpet industry. Around 200,000 Rohingya work in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, and send millions in remittances. We’re part of the national economy. Pakistan’s government shouldn’t see us as a liability. We’re an asset.”
Rohingya refugees first came to Pakistan upon the invitation of then-President Ayub Khan in 1962, Arkani said.
“He gave us refuge and helped us settle down with whatever resources we brought with us. Now this is our third generation living in Karachi, with a population of about 300,000.” Most of them live in the largely slum area of Korangi.
“Rohingya Muslims are mainly a fishing community in Karachi. We also work in textile factories, we sell vegetables, and our women weave beautiful carpets at home,” Arkani said.
“Pakistan has always had a huge heart,” but “we’re becoming a ghost population. Our national ID cards aren’t renewed. Our legal status in the county is at stake,” he added.
“It’s a major crisis, especially for the second and third generations, who were born and raised here. For them, Pakistan is their country, but Pakistan isn’t ready to own us anymore,” he said.
“I’m running after government officials and pleading with them to restore our legal identification. Without that, we can’t do anything. We can’t get jobs, go to hospital, open bank accounts or send our children to school.”
Arkani said the refugee influx stopped about two decades ago, and it is no longer easy to cross the border.
“The British, while leaving Burma (Myanmar), gave our state to the Burmese, whereas we wanted to be annexed to East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh),” he said.
“Like most of South Asia, the British left us (Rohingya) in an unacceptable situation. Our struggle isn’t new, but the world has woken up to it now,” he added.
“We’re attacked because our Rakhine state in Myanmar is rich in natural resources,” including oil and gas, Arkani said.
“It’s a fight to capture our resources, which are a goldmine for Myanmar’s government and the outside world.”
Ending the crisis
The only solution to the ongoing crisis in Rakhine is to “either give us independence, or the UN should protect us from Myanmar,” Arkani said.
“We should be taken care of under UN supervision. We’ve suffered a lot. The world should find a solution for us, otherwise we’ll continue hearing heart-wrenching stories.”
Arkani denied that Rohingya are involved in terrorist activities. “We started our struggle against the Burmese because they were killing us for refusing to be part of their country.”
Arkani urged the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Muslim countries to come to the aid of the Rohingya, “otherwise we’ll be wiped out soon.”
He added: “This is our third generation running and hiding from Myanmar’s Army. We’ve had enough.”