December 3, 2016 11:00 am JST

Rohingya residents in Japan call for international support

Life for Myanmar's Muslim minority in Rakhine is worsening: refugee

Rohingya refugee Syedul Amin Ahmed, second from left, and his wife live with their two children in an apartment in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture.

TOKYO -- The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, have long faced persecution in the primarily Buddhist Southeast Asian country, and several hundred thousand have fled the country.

Many have died in boats that never reached land, while others have failed to find any sort of security, falling victim to human traffickers amid their flight.

Rohingya are staging rallies across Asia to protest their persecution. In Japan, they are calling on the Japanese people to be aware of their plight and provide support. 

Inhumane treatment of Rohingya, who mainly inhabit Rakhine State, by Myanmar's military continues even after pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi took over the country's helm, and has actually worsened since October, said Syedul Amin Ahmed, 44. He lives in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, and is one of about 200 Rohingya who live in the city.  

For over 10 years, Syedul Amin Ahmed and his family have lived in a unit in a 30-year-old prefectural apartment building. A tapestry depicting Mecca and photos of the Islamic holy site hang on the walls.

Taking flight

In 1990, a young Syedul Amin Ahmed joined the National League for Democracy led by Suu Kyi to eradicate unfair treatment of the Rohingya and help promote democracy in the country.

Syedul Amin Ahmed was detained while participating in an election campaign and sent to a concentration camp, where he was fed barely enough food and tortured. After three weeks, he fled the facility with two comrades in a heavy rain and traveled through Bangladesh and Thailand to reach Malaysia.

He participated in another NLD rally there and was nearly detained again. Reflecting on his lack of safety and worried about his children's future, he came up with a plan together with his wife, Jamila Mohd Shukor, whom he married in Malaysia, and decided to go to Japan. 

In 2003, Syedul Amin Ahmed left his family in Malaysia and arrived at Kansai International Airport in Japan with a fake passport. He was detained by the immigration bureau, and all he could do was plead for help, he said.

After he applied for refugee status and was granted it two months later, the family was reunited in Japan. He now works in the automotive industry, and his children attend local primary and junior high schools in Tatebayashi. 

Those left behind

Life has become peaceful for his family, but Syedul Amin Ahmed is still tormented by the thought of his younger sister's family. They live in Rakhine, where he believes persecution has worsened since October. According to Syedul Amin Ahmed, soldiers have broken into his sister's home and stolen food and jewelry. 

"Even then they are better off because they are still alive," he said. "Many of our people were murdered for no apparent reason."

The Rohingya in Tatebayashi have formed a group to call for international support in their effort to obtain permission to stay, or get refugee status, in Japan.

The group sent a request to meet Suu Kyi during her visit to Japan earlier this month, but the meeting did not materialize.

"The situation for Rohingya is worsening rather than improving, and the support of the international community is our only hope," Syedul Amin Ahmed said. "We need more Japanese people to become aware of our distress." He added, "The Rohingya now live apart in different places, but I hope we all can go back and be reunited in our hometown."

In Myanmar, the Rohingya are not recognized as citizens, and they are only allowed to live in certain areas.

Sophia University professor Kei Nemoto, an expert on the modern history of Burma, as Myanmar was formerly known, said the root of discrimination against the Rohingya dates back to the 19th century.

According to Nemoto, people who now call themselves Rohingya can be traced to Muslims in the kingdom of Arakan, which existed from the 15th to 18th centuries in what is now Rakhine State. It was a Buddhist kingdom, but is believed to have been kind to Muslims.

But after many Muslims from Bangladesh, including Rohingya, started to resettle in the area, conflict with Buddhists began intensifying.

Rohingya started arriving in Japan in the 1990s, and over 90% of them are estimated to reside in Tatebayashi.

Get Insights on Asia In Your Inbox

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Get your first month for $0.99

Redeemable only through the Subscribe button below

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

Resubscribe now to continue reading.
BEST OFFER:
Only US$ 9.99 per month for a full-year subscription

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

We could not renew your subscription.
You need to update your payment information.