Wednesday 17 June 2015

'We always live in fear': Rohingya refugees speak out

Sarah Abo
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The plight of the Rohingya has dominated headlines recently as thousands flee Myanmar in crowded boats, often to be abandoned at sea by people smugglers.
Rejected in their homeland, the Rohingya have effectively been left stateless.
Most of them won't make it to Australian shores - stopping either in Malaysia or Indonesia where they are detained.
But the small community in Australia has spoken out about their fears.
Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar, have for decades been fleeing their homeland, which refuses to accept them as its citizens. 
Living in persecution since regional conflict with the Rakhine Buddhist population began in the 1940s, many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have had no choice but to leave.
“We have no security, no protection at all. We feel like, worse than animal. So we always live in fear.”
Habib Habiburahman is one of them. 
He left Rakhine state, in western Myanmar on the Bangladeshi border, when he was 19.
“They start ceasing all sort of identity and they start saying 'oh, you don't have identity, you are not belong to here', and they start ceasing all sort of property,” Habib said of the Myanmar government.
“We have no security, no protection at all. We feel like, worse than animal. So we always live in fear”.
Habib spent 10 years in Malaysia, where many Rohingya find themselves. Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and, according to the UNHCR, “lacks the legislative and administrative framework to address refugee matters”. 
Habib was constantly in and out of detention. 
“Half of the Rohingya population, they all are already in exile,” Habib said.
“In Malaysia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, India and also the other Europe developed countries.”
“We are stateless - we have nowhere to go.”
He says he was often at the mercy of people smugglers, who demanded money for his release. Eventually, he paid for a journey to Australia.
His boat was intercepted by Australian authorities, and he spent 22 months in detention in the Northern Territory and Christmas Island. 
While Habib’s future in Australia is not secure, at least he feels safe. 
“It was the first official document I received in my life.”
His friend Nowbi Mohammed, is a permanent resident, after spending 17 months in detention when he first arrived in 2009.
“It was the first official document I received in my life,” he said of his residency.
Two years after he arrived here, his wife and three young children made the same perilous journey.
His 12-year-old daughter Nosima remembers fearing she’d fall into the ocean.
“It was a bit scary on the boat,” she said. “It was a bit hot and there’s no water to drink, and there’s no food.”
She and her younger brothers were born in Malaysia, where her parents had fled to from Myanmar. 
“I was in Malaysia, then I went to Indonesia, Christmas Island, Darwin, Brisbane.”
To Nosima, Australia offers the chance of a new life.  
“There's no fighting in Australia, and they share everything,” she said. 
“You can go to primary school and high school. And you got a bit of holidays.”
The spotlight is back on the plight of the Rohingya, after thousands took to the seas, last month. 
Along with Bangladeshis, many were rescued from the waters of South East Asia, and have been temporarily resettled across Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, after those countries signed an agreement and stopped turning back the rickety boats. 
The Australian government was criticised for its hard line on the refugees, refusing to offer any resettlement, instead, providing financial assistance to the International Organisation for Migration’s activities in Indonesia. 

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