CAIRO – Living in refugee camps cut off by barbed wire and military checkpoints, Bengali-ethnic Muslims, known as Rohingya, are living an endless episode of humiliation in Burma.
"We have been here for a long time,” Mohamed Ali, 68, a resident of the western state of Rakhine, told The Independent.
“My father, my grandfather, they were born here."
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Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been living in refugee camps since June after fleeing their homes in Rakhine in the wake of sectarian violence with Buddhists.
In Borouda camp, the largest in Burma, 15,000 Rohingyas have settled there since they were forced to flee their homes in Sittwe.
Moniyan Khata, a 38-year-old Muslim woman, said their neighborhood had been surrounded by Buddhists and police.
"We had to hide in the lake," she said.
The terrified woman does not know the reason behind being attacked by Buddhists.
"We don't know," she said. "They want our land, they want our properties. They want us to leave the country."
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in Burma.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
Burmese President Thein Sein has said that Rohingyas should be settled in a third country.
Many Rohingya Muslims have taken hazardous journeys at sea to escape from Buddhist attacks.
"I came in one boat, my husband in another and our children were in a different one," said Chu Kiri, 35, hugging her four children, who are residing at the Te Chaung refugee camp.
"At the time I did not know if my husband and children were dead or alive. It was only when we reached here we met up."
But the Buddhist majority insists that the Rohingya Muslims are not natives of the country.
"They are trying to deceive the world," Shwe Maung, Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), which has links to the Buddhist clergy, said.
"They want the world to think they are natives of Rakhine.”
The RNDP, which holds 18 seats in the state assembly and 15 in the national parliament, backs the 1982 that considers the Rohingyas as non-citizens and calls for their expulsion.
"We are not anti-Muslim,” says Maung.
Buddhist monks also accuse the Rohingyas of conspiring to invade the country.
"We have to identify illegal immigrants and keep them in refugee camps,” Abbot Ariyawantha of the Sittwe's Shwe Zadi monastery.
“If at some time, a third country wants to accept them we would be happy."
But Rohingya Muslims dismiss the claims, saying they have been in the region for centuries.
"We want to be citizens of Burma. We don't want to leave Rakhine," said Aye Maung, an English teacher.
Many Rohingya Muslims have expressed disappointment at opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who has declined to condemn the mistreatment of the Rohingyas in Burma.“She is keeping silent," said Maung. "Perhaps she wants more votes from Buddhists."
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