MRAUK U (Myanmar) – By the twisted standards of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Abdullah is one of its more fortunate Rohingya residents.
The 34-year-old is alive, his village is intact and he is able to make a living – albeit a meagre one – in his homeland as a farmer.
Abdullah’s Rohingya Muslim minority are disappearing fast from Myanmar.
Some one million of them – around two-thirds of their entire stateless community – have been forced over the border to refugee camps in Bangladesh by successive waves of persecution.
The latest has expelled some 700,000 Rohingya since August, when the army launched a campaign of violence that the UN says amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.
Abdullah’s village of Shan Taung is near the temple-studded town of Mrauk U, not far from the epicentre of the most recent crackdown in northern Rakhine but partly sheltered from its worst excesses by a range of forested mountains.
He is among the 500,000 Rohingya whom the UN estimates remain in Myanmar, some confined to camps after previous rounds of violence while others are spared by wealth, luck or – like the villages in Abdullah’s area – simply by isolation from the latest military campaign.
Yet their lives are still shaped by tension and fear.
The status of the Rohingya in Rakhine hangs by a thread in the wake of the army crackdown, which has seen Myanmar troops and ethnic Rakhine mobs accused of burning Rohingya villages, and of raping and murdering their residents.
Shan Taung, with its 4,500-strong Rohingya population, appears peaceful.
Fishermen dry their catch in the sun, farmers bring in the rice paddy and children play at the side of the road.
But fear has sharply segregated the Rohingya Muslims and the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists living nearby.
The Rohingya say they risk a beating – or worse – if they stray into territory the Rakhine regard as their own, while few trust the police to protect them.
It was not always this way, says Abdullah, explaining he once had Rakhine friends and stayed with a Rakhine family while studying at university in the state capital, Sittwe.
“They no longer treat me like they used to,” he said. “They don’t say good things.”
Communal relations have disintegrated in recent months around Mrauk U town, where several people died recently after police opened fire on an ethnic Rakhine nationalist protest.
“We do not trust each other anymore,” a Rakhine youth said, asking not to be named.
“Rakhines are also watching each other to make sure no one from the town is friends with Muslims.” — AFP