Kamal (not his real name) lives in the town of Maungdaw, in north-western Arakan State, western Burma. The 40-year-old Rohingya struggles daily to support his family while operating a small tea shop. However, he wept when he told me in an recent interview he just can’t seem to make enough money and is deeply worried his family cannot not survive their present financial crisis.
As I sat with him in his shop, he told me he is the only wage earner in the family, supporting his wife and his children.
He has no alternative way to take care of his family members as his eldest son is also unemployed.
He rents the tea-shop for 6,000 Kyat per day from a Rohingya. He said he also has to pay tax to the concerned authority (but he didn’t mention how much he has to pay for fear of being identified).
He has five boys working in the tea-shop and has to pay them Kyat 2,000 Kyat each per day.
“I have 10 family members in my home and my elder son had completed matriculation from Maungdaw high school,” he said.
“My elder son is trying to go to the University of Akyab (Sittwee) but I am not able to send him because of my family’s financial crisis. Also, I will have to apply to the concerned authorities for a travel pass for him.”
That is a major problem for Kamal and his son because Rohingyas, in Arakan State, unlike the Rakhine majority, face imprisonment and hefty fines if they are caught by authorities travelling from one village or township to another, weather for education, business, or even to access needed health services not available in their area, if they do not secure a travel pass from authorities.
Rohingyas trying to move goods for business purposes within the state accuse authorities of demanding much higher taxes from them than from their Rakhine counterparts, who they say bring goods from Akyab or Rangoon and sell them to Rohingya businessmen, in Maungdaw.
Like Kamal, Rohinyas in Arakan State, had hoped to see positive change in the way the government treats the Muslim minority, who continue to be denied legal citizenship status and equal rights with their Rakhine neighbors.
Rohingya leaders continue to protest against government restrictions on marriage and movement, as well as restrictions on access to health services and education, oppressive taxation and ongoing forced labor and arbitrary arrest.
They say religious persecution continues, such as when Muslim religious teachers are required to remove their head covering when entering a government office and the fact that mosques are not allowed to be repaired or decorated with color, even though they are surrounded by beautiful Buddhist pagodas.
Rohingyas say they struggle to feed themselves as the cost of food and other needed commodities continues to rise. They acknowledge that poor Rakhine Arakanese also have to deal with higher costs but can manage better because they are able to find employment, unlike most Rohingyas.
Rohingyas in the Maungdaw area say they are concerned their community continues to face hardship and persecution despite the election of a new central government. They say they can only hope the tides of change sweeping central Burma will reach them, soon.
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