For more than 20 years, Mohammad Rasheed has eked out a living selling fish on the southeastern tip of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi.
Now 41, Rasheed says he was just 10 years old when members of his family fled religious persecution in Myanmar’s western coastal state of Rakhine, heading first to neighboring Bangladesh, then across the border to the Indian city of Kolkata, before finally making the journey north by foot to Pakistan via Kashmir.
“I am a Rohingya,” he tells CNN, while seated on the edge of an old rickety red boat. “And I have no home.”
For a day’s work, Rasheed earns the equivalent of $4. He has six children and cannot afford a mobile phone.
He is aware of the ongoing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, occasionally using a friend’s phone to keep in touch with his sister and brother who stayed behind in their village in Rakhine.
But in recent weeks Rasheed has been unable to contact anyone back home.
“I haven’t heard from my brother or sister since the 18th of August,” says Rasheed, who has been tracking updates on social media and on pictures circulating on messenger apps. “We’re from near Maungdaw (town) and our village has been totally burnt, all of it. I don’t know where they are at all, I don’t know if they have been killed, if they’re alive. I don’t know anything at all.”
In the past two weeks, more than a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees have flooded into Bangladesh, fleeing the latest outbreak of violence in Rakhine, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.
Mohammad Rasheed is just one of 55,000 Rohingya currently believed to be living in Pakistan, according to the National Data Registration Authority (NADRA), the majority of whom are in Karachi.
There, in the Arakanabad slum – or “Land of Arakan,” so dubbed in reference to the former Burmese name for Rakhine – thousands of Rohingya families, many of whom arrived several decades earlier, have gathered together to form one of the largest communities outside of south west Myanmar.
Unlike Rasheed, most of those who reside in Arakanabad have been in Pakistan for more than 35 years, having fled earlier bouts of conflict and violence, with some arriving as far back as the 1960s when Pakistan and Bangladesh were one country and borders were more porous.
But despite being in Karachi for several generations, many of those Rohingya who live in Arakanabad are not eligible for citizenship. According to many Rohingya interviewed by CNN, only those who arrived before the civil war of 1971 are provided with Pakistani ID cards, without which it is impossible to get access to employment, basic health care or education.