When we first heard news of the unrest in Sittwe [in June
], I assumed the same thing would eventually happen in Kyaukphyu as well. On October 21, Rakhine Buddhists burnt down two mosques in the Muslim part of my town. The next night, they came back with torches and gas canisters and started burning down the whole area. Men shot at us with hand-made weapons, mostly shooting bicycle spikes. Then, men in plainclothes – but who were clearly security officers – came and started shooting at us with guns. They shot my wife. She died right away. I wanted to take her body with me, but they kept shooting at us. So in the end my children and I had to leave her behind and run down to the river bank. We got into a fishing ship and fled to Sittwe.
We arrived in a refugee camp in Sittwe the next day, on the 23rd. It’s incredibly crowded – there were already lots of people that arrived here after the first round of violence. Now there are over 3,000 of us in the camp. Thanks to donations, we have enough food; we cook it ourselves. We’re surviving here, but we’re so afraid. And I miss my wife so much. If the situation calms down, I would like to go home. Since we have nothing left, we would like the government to help us by giving us job opportunities and ensuring our security so that we can try to go back to our lives. However, I heard that we might be moved to other towns, further away.
“In the time of the military government, the Buddhists in Rakhine state didn’t dare bully Muslims like this”
For a long time, the Buddhists in Rakhine state have hated the Muslims as if it were the most natural thing in the world. In Kyaukphyu, like in the rest of the region, Buddhists and Muslims lived apart from each other, in separate parts of town. Of course, that didn't mean we didn't interact: some of us had Buddhist friends and some are even married to Buddhist people. Children of both the Buddhists and the Muslims attended the same schools. But due to decades of discrimination, Muslims have had less access to economic opportunities, and this has created tensions. I don’t understand why people think we Muslims in Rakhine state are foreigners, even though were born here, just like the rest. In the time of the military government, the Buddhists in Rakhine state didn’t dare bully Muslims like this.