MYEBON TOWNSHIP, Arakan State — In Myebon camp, there were few signs on Monday that the roughly 3,000 Rohingya Muslim residents were celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s most important religious holidays.
There was no music, nor a festive atmosphere. Yet, some low-key ceremonies were taking place and for residents of the camp in northern Arakan State it was a rare chance to observe their traditions and rejoice.
“This is first time that they [Arakan State authorities] allowed us to do it. We could not do it since violence broke out here” in 2012, said Kyaw Thein, the camp committee’s chairman. “But we celebrated it quietly as we are living in the camp.”
During Eid al-Adha, Muslims honor the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael on God’s command, before God intervened and gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead. Traditionally during the holiday, an animal is sacrificed and divided among the family, relatives and friends, and the poor.
At Myebon, the Rohingya managed to collect some money from camp residents and donations from slightly better off Muslim villagers in the area so that they could afford to sacrifice 21 cows.
Around 3 pm, the men gathered below some plastic tarpaulins that provided little relief from the blistering mid-day sun to quietly slaughter the animals and divide them into pieces of meat for distribution among families in the camp.
Groups of excited children ran around, with some of them wearing new clothes and cheap sunglasses. Among many parents in the camp the mood was subdued, however.
“Brother, you are lucky to see our children in their new dress today. We do not have money to buy it for them. Some people [in nearby villages] donated it to the children to wear during Eid,” said Hla Myint, a camp resident and father of five.
Some residents said they would roast the beef as they lacked the ingredients to prepare a meat curry as they would normally have done before they fled from their villages.
The Rohingya in the camp are among the roughly 140,000 Muslims who were displaced by an outbreak of clashes with the Arakanese Buddhists in northern Arakan State in 2012, where tensions between communities have since remained high.
In Myebon Township, violence erupted in October 2012; 22 Muslims were killed and three Buddhists died. A reported 3,010 Rohingya fled and their villages were burned down, while several hundred Arakanese were displaced.
International human rights groups have accused Burma’s Buddhist-dominated government of carrying out severe rights abuses against the roughly 1 million stateless Rohingya, such as limiting their freedom of movement and access to education and health care, while also blocking international aid from reaching the Muslim camps.
Kyaw Thein said the displaced Rohingya at Myebon camp were suffering from poor living conditions and government restrictions that ban them from leaving the site, a piece of rocky land about the size of two football pitches crammed with ramshackle bamboo and tin-roofed huts.
“We are living as if we are staying under house arrest. We could not move outside the camps,” he said.
About a dozen armed police are stationed around the camp, which is situated between a paddy field and a hill, while a police check point controls the only road leading to the site. There is no local water source and aid organizations have to regularly supply water for drinking and washing, along with regular food rations.
Not far from the Rohingya camp, on the other side of the road, there is a small camp for about 100 Arakanese Buddhists displaced by the violence. Residents of this camp are free to move in and out during the morning and they could be seen leaving for Myebon market to buy or sell goods.
In Myebon town, about a 15-minute drive to the south of the Rohingya camp, loudspeakers were blasting Buddhist chanting on Monday afternoon, while monks collected rice donations during a ceremony that attracted hundreds of Arakanese worshippers.
At the Rohingya camp, residents said they wish they could go back to their homes and rebuild their villages, something that is being prohibited by the authorities who believe that permanent segregation of Buddhist and Muslim communities is the solution to the conflict.
“I want to say: ‘Let’s forget what happened in the past and let us go back to our home places.’ We are human beings; we need nutrition and ingredients to make our food sweet or sour. Please do not let us stay in this place any longer,” said Hla Myint.