Interview with U Hla Saw, General Secretary of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party

Facing an economic crisis and joblessness, many individuals and families have been leaving Arakan State in search of opportunities to survive elsewhere. The areas worst hit by the crisis are Mraybon and Munbra Townships, which were also hit hard by Cyclone Giri. There are concerns that the crises may lead to the loss of Arakanese national races in the state, as those who are leaving to work overseas in Thailand and Malaysia have been deserting their homeland and selling off their property.

Narinjara has interviewed U Hla Saw, general secretary of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, which is the main Arakanese political party, concerning the crises in western Burma’s Arakan State.

Q: What are the reasons behind Arakanese people leaving their homeland?

A: This is not a crisis that suddenly emerged in Arakan State, but one that has been building from the decades-long restrictions and monopolization of the land and water where people earn their livelihoods. Since they have no freedom to earn their livelihood from their surrounding lands, forest, mountains, ponds, creeks, rivers, or the sea, and have no other jobs, they have to leave their homeland for opportunities elsewhere just to survive.

Q: What can stop the people from leaving their homeland?

A: The people here are mostly dependent on the surrounding natural resources and they should have rights to access these public resources freely to sustain their daily lives in their localities. There are systems such as leasing out the sea, river, creeks, and pods to private businesses in our state. Those systems were unheard of even in the age of the BSPP government, and we should try together to stop those systems that have come to exist currently in our state. If we fail to abolish those systems, then we will have to watch people continuing to leave our homeland.

Q: What will happen to the future Arakanese nationalities if they keep leaving their homeland?

A: Arakanese people are now facing various challenges, such as lack of opportunities for work, no electricity, and shortages of food and water in their homeland. So they have been leaving Arakan State because it is just the most neglected and least developed state in Burma. However, their departure is also dependent on their personal choices. If we have to look from the perspective of race or nationality, the issue is a problem that may gradually lead to the cessation of a national race.

Q: What should the Arakanese do to solve their problem?

A: It is not possible to stop the people who left their homeland behind for their personal interest and survival, but we should work together to develop our own state and to create job opportunities inside the state. Especially the politicians, the educated, and the intellectuals should come together to demand the pre-requisites such as electricity and better infrastructure for sustainable development of the state without fear from the central government.

Q: What is the latest situation inside the state?

A: People, especially from the cyclone-affected Munbra and Mraybon Townships are moving to Tanaig in Kachin State. The Yuzana Company is also taking not only individuals but also families from those areas to employ them as laborers in their projects. The company officials have been collecting them at a Buddhist shrine public hall in Munbra Town and have been taking them every day in crowded busses to their projects. I heard that most of the people are worried about being trafficked by the officials after being taken there, but they have no choice and have to follow them to get the opportunity for a job to earn a living.