By Imran Mohammad
The world has just begun to recognise the Rohingya people. Despite being born in Myanmar (formerly Burma), we are known as ‘stateless’ people, meaning we do not belong anywhere on this earth. It is so easy to be labelled stateless, however the impact on our lives is heartbreaking.
Being stateless has left me and my family with nothing. We live in fear from the day we are born until the day we die. We are stripped of our independence and even when we finally escape, we end up in exile. It is our own country that puts us into this position, making us suffer horrors which other humans could only struggle to comprehend.
As the media is not allowed to visit our state, I would like to draw the world a picture of why we, the Rohingya people, feel invisible amongst our fellow humans.
Life in Myanmar
The Rohingya people do not live their lives freely. All of my thoughts are controlled by the system and I have to do what is expected of me – no independence or diversity allowed.
We have been marginalised by those we could be living beside in harmony. Our self-worth is taken away by restricting our basic rights, such as the right to pray as a community and to marry freely. We believe we are worthless because this is what we have been told – what our parents and grandparents have been told.
As such, we are restricted from receiving an education. No schools are allowed to teach the Rohingya language and we have never been permitted to record it, so it is a verbal language only. However, the Rohingyas are creative and resilient. Some prioritise getting their children an education by paying enormous amount of money to those in power.
We believe we are worthless because this is what we have been told – what our parents and grandparents have been told.
Those of us who are educated are still barred from any kind of government job. We can find other jobs with fake documents, but have to pay a huge amount of money to represent ourselves as a ‘valid’ citizen of Myanmar. If we get caught, we lose our lives.
We still don’t have electricity in our villages and we can barely access the Burmese mobile network coverage. Fortunately, we can get Bangladesh phone network in order to correspond with our families all over the world. We still can’t open a bank account and I can remember that my parents used to bury their money and valuable belongings in the backyard.
Our communities are being destroyed because of the system in which we are living in. The authorities have created spies from our people, giving them a lot of power in exchange for turning against their own community.
Whenever the authorities receive any ‘suspicious’ information, they come and count everything we have. The knives, chickens, cows, goats and of course, the family members, too. If someone is not there during the counting, they will be exempt from the family list and are longer able to stay in Myanmar. They simply cease to exist and can never come home again.
Whenever the authorities receive any ‘suspicious’ information, they come and count everything we have… If someone is not there during the counting, they will be exempt from the family list and are longer able to stay in Myanmar. They simply cease to exist and can never come home again.
Because of these violations to our human rights, we flee from our country and try to reach nearby countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
I escaped from my country at the age of 16, as I was threatened to be killed. My father had a shop and always had to pay bribes to the Buddhist police and the locals. One day my father couldn’t pay the money and they threatened to kill his children. One night they came to our house my father told us to leave. He told me to flee my country but didn’t tell me why. But I knew that they were looking for me. All of a sudden my whole world changed. I couldn’t even hug my mother for the last time which left my chest empty, heartbroken and changed me forever.
All of a sudden my whole world changed. I couldn’t even hug my mother for the last time which left my chest empty, heartbroken and changed me forever.
Stateless Rohingya in Bangladesh and Malaysia
I have many relatives in Bangladesh and l lived there for a while before I finally moved on in my journey. Even here the Rohingya people remain in fear as they have no legal rights. They arrange their daughters’ marriages to Bangladeshi men, or get stuck after putting their trust in corrupt travel agents who had promised to relocate them.
There are also thousands of Rohingya who are living in Malaysia. Most of them came by boat and some of them entered by plane somehow. The majority hold a refugee card and are working in construction, although they have no work permit and get paid very little. With what little money they do earn, they try to send some home to their loved ones. Sadly it hardly ever arrives.
With what little money they do earn, they try to send some home to their loved ones. Sadly it hardly ever arrives.
I was a young man and had lots of young Rohingya friends who were born in Malaysia. They were treated like strangers among the Rohingya but could also never say that they were Malaysian. I was able to feel their indescribable pain as they couldn’t find a sense of belonging anywhere.
I will not lose faith
I managed to come to Australia after crossing so many rivers and oceans in 2013. I was imprisoned in many detention centres in many countries. Finally, I thought I would see an end to my stateless life in Australia but it has been reinforced to a greater extent.
I know how it feels to be humiliated every single day and to be treated like an animal, although I have done nothing wrong. Despite all of this, I have not lost faith in this world and humanity. The world is a gift to all of us and I will continue to fight to preserve this present with my dignity and humanity.
Despite having experienced all these sufferings, I have become such a strong man because I have found the meaning of liberty in the state of my mind. This is where my actual freedom is and I have a complete control over it and it is untouchable. My heart is full of hope and love as I have experienced them throughout my hardships
Manus Island, Papua New Guinea