Sittwe. Keep out!

Rakhine driving around Sittwe June 2012 at time of first attack.

Rakhine driving around Sittwe June 2012 at time of first attack.

We are being followed. Everyone we speak to is then in turn spoken to. We are being watched, our movements, what we buy, what we say, what we eat. The regime is scared of something.

In Sittwe where the Rohingya Muslims were murdered last year the attitude towards us has further darkened. Some of the local Rakhine women, who first received us with smiles and waves, possibly thinking we were tourists, now have dropped all the niceties after word has gotten around that we are visiting the Rohingya IDP camps.

I have become increasingly aware that my skin complexion makes me seem less of a Westerner than others around me, especially now that I am being associated with the Muslim Rohingya.

We took a walk to the local internet café in the Rakhine part of town where we are staying. That night as we walked a man said “Why don’t you guys go down here,” pointing towards a side road. The last remaining Rohingya ward, surrounded by barbed wire and guns, is in that direction. We politely said “No, thank you,” and moved on. On the way back he said it again, looking me directly in the eyes, but this time adding, “The Muslims are down there.”

Further up the road a man pulls up next to us whilst we are walking back to our guesthouse and aggressively asks, “Where are you going?” We answer, “Our guest house,” and he continues to speak aggressively and coldly.

“Come with me!” he demands. At any point I was expecting him to pull out a police badge or even attack. We say, “No thank you,” he drives off and shouts some words that we do not understand.

Associating with Rohingya is very dangerous. The local Rakhine do not like it, and neither do the authorities. The Rohingya are who we are here to see.

Last night as I returned to my hotel, a man signalled at me whilst talking to another man and called me a “Rohingya”. The implication is clear; the brown guy is a Muslim, Rohingya, the same as the people they massacred and continue to persecute today. I see men riding on the back of motorcycles at night whilst carrying long blades, the same blades, maybe, that were involved in the hacking of the Rohingya, including children, last year.

Men on motorcycles follow us. Thuggish looking men, overly fed and built, wait outside our hotel, constantly informing someone on the phone of when we leave and come back. Men sit close to us when we have dinner. Our hotel that advertises wifi internet connection suddenly has connection problems, we are unable to contact the outside world via the net. What are they preventing from getting out?

Local Rakhine, who attempt to help the Rohingya, or try and bring goods into the camp markets face being ostracised. Last week, three such Rakhine were beat up in the Rakhine part of town then forced to wear and parade around with signs calling them traitors. They are considered traitors or ‘kalar’ lovers. Kalar is a racist term that is used for the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in Burma.

Although the attitude towards us has changed, it is nothing compared to what the Rohingya face. I am a foreigner. I was born In England and because of that I am a British citizen with all the rights and protection that come along with my nationality. The British consulate is about an hour’s plane ride away and could be on hand to help if need be. I have the option of flying out; I have the protection and privilege that a foreigner usually has.

The Rohingya have no such protection. They cannot leave their areas as the military impose curfews and roadblocks. The Rohingya cannot fly out of the airport; they don’t have passports or travel documents. They have to pay and apply to the police and military for official permission to leave their villages, wards and camp restricted areas. The Rohingya are always watched and tracked. Their only escape is to risk death by going out to sea or escape by death itself, not much of a choice. They continue to live in imposed sub-human conditions because they are not recognised as Burmese citizens, not even recognised as human with simple and basic human rights.

The Rohingya that talk to me risk their lives. Even in the IDP camps we are being watched and followed. If the regime so wants, anyone that talks to us can end up in a jail, tortured or just disappear. The Rohingya we meet are brave and loving people. A day has not gone past that we have not been received with hospitality, access to their lives and harrowing accounts. We will soon leave; the Rohingya will continue to endure.


Copyright:
You are free to share (copy, distribute, transmit), remix (adapt) and make commercial use of this article. Please just credit to Assed Baig, include link to AssedBaig.com and consider supporting @rj_fund http://rohingyajournalismfund.blogspot.co.uk/ a crowd funded project that made this report possible.

7 thoughts on “Sittwe. Keep out!

  1. From someone who knows Burma well…

    Number 1)They weren’t cutting off your internet access. No where in Burma has internet access that is reliable except a few hotels in Rangoon..and even they are subject to outages.

    Number 2) Yes there were probably a few people following you and talking to people you talked to. But this is not government sanctioned. It takes a long time for local governments to ‘get the memo’ so to speak and change practices. They speak to people you speak to so they know whats going on in case they get asked – so they dont get in trouble for complacency. Thats the way it has worked for decades in Burma and it will take a little while for locals to change their ways. But it doesn’t mean that there is a mass conspiracy. If you knew Burma and had spent time there you would get this.

    Number 3)You talk about ‘the regime’. You are a few years out of date there…

    Number 4) What evidence do you have that people are ‘going missing’ or being tortured by the government for speaking to foreigners? What kind of journalist do you think you can be making unsubstantiated claims with no evidence. Do you think that is responsible?

    Number 5) What is happening with the Rohingya is very serious and tragic. There is certainly a strong racist element at work. And many of them are in a desperate situation and need assistance and aid. But misinformation and paranoia like this dont help. They make it worse.

  2. Hi Assed,

    I’m writing a piece about online activism for an Australian news site and would like to contact you for an interview. What’s the best way to get in touch?

    Thanks,

    Heidi Pett

  3. Following from the UK, this is shocking and harrowing. We pray you are successful in spreading awareness about the atrocities against the Rohingya and that the people find a way out of this hell on earth.

  4. Several million ethnic-Hebrews have been born in what you call Palestine; that doesn’t suffice for your to consider them citizens of Palestine. In other words, you accept that place-of-birth is separate from nationality. The Rohingya speak Bengali; that is a simple fact. Ever since 1971, there has been a national homeland for Muslim Bengali-speakers; its name is Bangladesh. Address your complaints to Dhaka. Stop trying to settle Bengalis in a non-Bengali country. If they wanted to assimilate into Myanma culture, they would have done so long ago; but they refuse.If you love them so much; get them to Saudi or Pakistan or some such place which declares itself to be a Muslim country. There is not a shortage of Muslim countries in today’s world. The Myanma people have only their one little country, and they have the same right of self-determination as does Pakistan or Egypt to determine their internal affairs and define their identity.

  5. Please be careful! These hatefilled bullies are on a blood thirsty rampage. They would rather kill innocent people instead of facing their own woeful inadequacies. Theresa Siskind USA

  6. I found you on RT news
    but you told ‘do not represent that of any news organisation.’
    what the fuck are you doing?

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