Rohingya In Depth - Interview with Maung Tun Khin
From face value, Tun Khin is indistinguishable in our multicultural society, but he is one of the few Rohingyans who settled in the U.K after experiencing the persecution of hardship imposed on his people first hand in the Arakan stae in Burma. Though he has only been living here for a few years, he has wasted no time is trying to voice the injustices of the Rohingyas in hopes that change can happen. Tun Khin is the president of the Burmese Rohingyan Organisation UK (BROUK), who with other Rohingyan people have been working relentlessly in raising awareness of the daily injustices the Rohingyans continually face in Burma and for the scattered rohingya refugees in places such as Maylasia, Thailand and especially Bangladesh. I sat down with Tun Khin where I asked about his experiences of injustice as a Rohingyan but also what progress has been made in spreading the message of the Rohingyan people.
What was it like growing up in Burma?
I grew up in the Arakan state where I faced persecution. Travelling between villages was too hard and to other districts was really hard, but through providing bribes I travelled to Bangkok seven years ago and was able to get an education. I then travelled to the U.K and I am currently doing my PHD.
Is your family still in Burma?
My family is still there, they live in Rangoon and it is not as bad as living in Arakan.
Do you want them to leave Burma too?
No I don’t, they do not want to leave, as I am working for my people I want to go back one day and return to my country, I hope one day my country will have peace.
You visited Norway earlier this year to raise awareness for the Rohingyas, what did you do there?
Norway has an annual film festival , which I was invited to to speak in the panel discussion on the documentary, ‘The exodus of the Rohingya’; The documentary highlighted the situation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and I spoke about their background and current situation because they need to know the root of their problem; The Rohingyas left Burma because they were (and still are) facing political, religious and social persecution in Burma. I highlighted in 1962, when military coup took power, they implemented ways to get rid of the Rohingyas in Arakan and 1990 onwards the situation was getting more worse and implemented restriction of movement, restriction of education, rape of women, religious persecutions the restriction of marriage - when they want to get married they need to get permission from the authorities and fill up an application and until today there about 10,000 pending applications, and the Rohingyas go to Bangladesh because of these human rights violations, but the injustices they find are as bad there as there were in Burma.
And what did the other panel members comment on the documentary?
They really sympathised with the Rohingya issue and were shocked by what they face on a daily basis.
What are your thoughts of the changing attitudes of the Burmese government and the worldwide attention on it? How do you think this will affect the Rohingyas?
The international community who see current so called reformist government as quite good because they are releasing political prisoners, they are bringing Aung San Su Kyi to the parliament and the bi-elections and showing a transition to democracy, but I highlight that currently the regime have not properly reformed. It is atmospheric changes, it is not genuine change; we want constitutional and legal reform. Burma’s problem is the ethnic ‘problem’; the different ethnicities do not have their own rights, we need to see every Burmese ethnic group have their own rights and then the country will have long lasting peace. The Burmese regime are engaging with the Burmese groups but there is no solution at this point.
Why do you think that the Rohingya situation is more deep rooted than other ethnic groups?
The Kachin people face their own conflict but still the Rohingya are in the worst situation in comparison to other ethnic groups because of the racial hatred which the Rohingyas face from the regime. Rohingyas who have been living there for a few hundred years, still even recently the regime say that they are immigrants from Bangladesh because our skin colour is different, our face is different, our culture and religion is different from other Burmese people and that is the mentality and attitude towards the Rohingya by the regimists.
Is the Norweigian government in any way trying to help the Rohingya situation?
Norway government is the only government engaging with the regime. I also had the opportunity to meet the former Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik, who is a supporter Human rights in democracy and a good friend of our democratic leader, Aung San Su Kyi and so I had a chance to speak about the Rohingya issue. What I recommended is that the Norwegian government can persuade Burma to stop these Human Rights violations in the ethnic areas as well as Arakan, the Rohingya area. The Norwegian public can also raise the Rohingya issue with their government to aim to restore the ethnic rights in Burma.
Are there any Rohingyas living in Norway?
There are about 15 to 20 families living in Norway and they have established a Norway Rohingya Community who work with the Norwegian government.
You also visited Belgium, how did you raise awareness for the Rohingya issue there?
In Belgium I met with the European Burma network and we structured a plan in how we can help the Rohingya issue in Burma and we agreed on which plan of action we should take, we meet every 6 months to discuss our progress. The progress which has been already made for raising awareness for the Rohingyas is a big step.
What do you hope to achieve from the conference in the House of Lords later this month?
From the conference I want the British government to support human rights democracy developments in Burma and as this is very important for the Rohingyas to receive their lost right. I feel that the British government need to speak up about the regime to include Rohingyas in the political process to restore ethnic and citizenship rights and to provide humanitarian aid to the Rohingyan refugees in Bangladesh; and also to encourage the Bangladeshi government and the Saudi government to provide humanitarian care for the refugees.
Restless Beings are working closely with Tun Khin and BROUK in raising awareness of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, by researching their plight in depth and addressing these problems to our supporters. We will also be attending the BROUK conference at the House of Lords later on this month to further draw to attention to the British government and the international community the marginalised, stateless and persecuted state of the Rohingyas.