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Pakistan Should Back Rohingya Rights Abroad and at Home

Longtime Refugees from Burma Denied Citizenship, ID Cards

Rohingya immigrants living in Pakistan, react during an interview with Reuters at their residence in Arkanabad neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan September 7, 2017.

Pakistan’s foreign minister has expressed “deep anguish” at the ongoing violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma. The foreign secretary has summoned the Burmese ambassador and registered an official protest. And Pakistan’s parliament has urged the government to press the issue on the international stage.

Like other countries around the world, Pakistan has expressed horror at the Burmese government’s brutal crackdown against the Rohingya, which Human Rights Watch found bears all the hallmarks of an “ethnic cleansing” campaign. More than 350,000 Rohingya have crossed into neighboring Bangladesh, fleeing abusive security operations by the Burmese military that began soon after a Rohingya armed group attacked police and army security posts. Inside Burma’s western Rakhine State, village after village is being burned down, the smoke visible from the skies and across the border. Rohingya refugees have described the military’s use of small arms, mortars, and armed helicopters to chase them out of their homes.

Given the terrible violence being visited on them inside Burma, Pakistan’s concern for the plight of the Rohingya is welcome. But attitudes closer to home are less inspiring.

Officially, 55,000 Rohingya live in Pakistan today, many in the Arkanabad neighborhood of Karachi. Many of these Rohingya families, who actually may number up to 300,000 people, first came to Karachi after a repressive military regime took power in Burma in 1962. Yet half a century after arriving in Pakistan, the Rohingya in Karachi are still unable to obtain citizenship, and those who arrived after Pakistan’s 1971 civil war cannot get national identification cards, which leaves them unable to enroll their children in public schools, use government health facilities, or even open bank accounts. They are effectively rendered “stateless” – precisely the same indignity to which the Rohingya have been subjected in Burma. Their uncertain legal status makes the Rohingya living in Pakistan vulnerable to harassment, extortion, and discrimination.

Pakistan should use all diplomatic channels on its own and in concert with other countries to press Burma to halt its violent campaign targeting the Rohingya. But the Pakistani government also needs to start treating Rohingya on its own soil better too, and it should start by guaranteeing them the same basic rights and constitutional protections other Pakistanis enjoy. 

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