KARACHI (Reuters) – For an estimated 300,000 Rohingya Muslims living in squalor in Pakistan’s largest city, the news from Myanmar in the past two weeks is reviving painful memories of the violence that drove many of them here half a century ago.
Some say they have got word of relatives being killed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state or are not being able to contact family members.
Karachi’s Rohingya community comprises migrants from an earlier era of displacement dating back to the 1960s and ‘70s. Despite decades in a foreign land, they have stayed in touch with family back home, especially in recent years through mobile phones and social media.
In the past two weeks, nearly 300,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military launched an offensive in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police posts and an army base. Hundreds of homes in Rohingya villages have been burned and about 400 people have been killed.
The older members of Karachi’s Rohingya community fled from a repressive military regime that took power in 1962, escaping on foot or by boat to Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan. Eventually, they made their way to Karachi.
Most of the people living in the slum called Arakanabad were born in Pakistan, or fled violence in their homeland decades ago. It’s named for Arakan, which was what Rakhine used to be called.
Raheela Sadiq, a more recent migrant who came to Pakistan 15 years ago, said she has been unable to contact relatives in Rakhine via mobile phone for nearly two weeks.
“I have seen what is happening to people over there on the internet,” she said as tears filled her eyes.
Videos and pictures depicting violence in Rakhine and shared on social media are passed around quickly in Arakanabad, adding to fears and anxiety about relatives back home.
Fisherman Noor Mohammed, 50, said three members of his family in Rakhine were killed a few days ago.
“My brother, brother-in-law, and nephew were there (in Rakhine). They are all dead now. The army over there killed them,” he said, adding that he heard the news from another nephew who is still alive.
Hoor Bahar, 60, said she left Rakhine with her husband over 30 years ago when her mother and sister were killed.
“I have one sister left who went to Bangladesh seven to 10 days ago,” she added. However, she said, her sister is being held on a beach by boatmen who brought her from Rakhine and are demanding $350 as payment.