Asia Pacific- The Journey of a Rohingya

14 August 2015|Nick Jones

Rohingya children run around Kuala Langsa camp in Aceh, Indonesia. (Rudi/JRS Indonesia)

“I heard that Indonesia will let us stay here one year but after that one year what will happen to us? I have dreams of school, also my friend and our five friends. We wish to study! What will happen to us?”

Bangkok, 14 August 2015- The Government of Myanmar acknowledges the presence of an estimated 1.33 million Rohingya people residing within Myanmar.  Khin Yi, Minister of Immigration and Population stated that there are 1.08 million Rohingya in Rakhine State.

As a result of the inter-communal violence in June and October 2012, there were at least 146,000 displaced people within Rakhine State with several thousand more waiting to be registered, according to the latest OCHA Bulletin.  The majority of these are of Rohingya ethnicity.  Inter-communal violence has spread to other parts of Myanmar following the incidents in Rakhine State.

The Rohingya flee for religious and political reasons. They face persecution at home for being Muslim and politically are considered stateless by the government.

In his New Year message, The Archbishop of Rangoon, Charles Bo, emphasized the value of fraternity and unity in diversity, he invited the government of Myanmar and the international community, to resolve the issues related to citizenship, stating that “Every person born in Myanmar should be recognized as a citizen,” – Various news sources, including UCA News and ECU News

Many IDPs in Rakhine State have been relocated to inadequate temporary shelter in registered IDP camps.  There they face segregation from the rest of the population and have been denied freedom of movement, cutting off their access to livelihoods.  Essential services have also been repeatedly attacked and denied access to them.

Rohingya people previously residing in Rakhine State, who have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh or undertaken risky maritime movement to reach relative safety in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia (among other countries) still face gross human rights abuses in these transitory countries where they have no legal status.  Even those recognized as refugees by UNHCR are facing an indefinite wait for resettlement, due to unclear policy on their eligibility for the limited resettlement places dedicated to refugees in the region.

People are leaving from the poverty stricken Bangladesh to find better working conditions as to enable their children to move out of poverty, basically by working hard and sending money back home. Bangladesh is also one of the most vulnerable countries in regards to natural disasters, regularly displacing people and its expected to be heavily affected by climate change.

The biggest challenges they face along the way are hunger and protection vulnerabilities; as they cannot legally travel so they typically migrate through the help of a broker. A broker being someone who organises their clandestine journey –people smuggling, along the way people are vulnerable to being exploited and abused during this situation- trafficking. Not all survive the journey most suffer mental trauma after the events.

Rohingya women for example have reported violence, sexual exploitation and need psychosocial assistance to create coping skills after. On the boat many endured lack of water, food, access to sanitary facilities. Malnutrition, illness, starvation, violence and even death, were all dangers they faced and witnessed on board of the boats.

Rohingya Testimony conducted by Nick Jones – JRS Asia Pacific on 22 July 2015 in Aceh, Indonesia

My name is Mohamed and I am a Rohingya from Myanmar.

My past

I am 17 and I was born in the Nayapara Refugee camp.

We lived outside the camps though as family members were unregistered. As I got older my mother and father wanted to make sure I got an education. The villages outside the camp only go to class 3 but I wanted to be a doctor so my parents encouraged me and I joined the school in the camp. I went through class 6, 7, 8, and 9. 

I talked with my father and he said the country situation is not good and I cannot pursue my education. So three months ago I decided to go to Malaysia and then go to Australia to study. I want to study! I want to become a doctor in Australia!

On the boats

I left 4 months ago [February] but I spent 2 months on the boat and it was a terrible experience. The smugglers beat the people. Everyday people suffered. They beat me for money and people would fight over the food because the smugglers would not give enough for everyone. One day the captain decided to combine the three boats into 1. It was very crowded. Too crowded. There was no water, no food, we were just floating, and then the Indonesian fishermen came.

My English is good so many ask me to be translator. I asked the fishermen what country is this and they said Indonesia. They helped us, gave us some food and water. They pulled us into Indonesia water but the Indonesia navy came and pulled us to Malaysia waters. The Malaysia navy came and pulled us into Indonesia waters.

After the crew and smugglers abandoned the boat the situation got worse and turned violent after there was not enough water.  The water was only given to the women and children. No water was given to the men. Bangladeshi outnumbered the Myanmar people in the boat and some of our people fell into the sea. People drowned, I saw one man jump into the sea to avoid the violence. He drowned. People were crying. 

Almost 20 boats came from Indonesia, all fishermen. They first helped those swimming, the people in the water, then they came and helped us. In one night we were able to go from where the fishermen found us to where we arrived, just there (points to harbor), and now we are here at the camps.

In the camp

The camp is way better. This place is safer. In Myanmar they all want to kill but in the camp they don’t want to kill.

I think security in the camp could be better as every night around 1 or 2 am there are knocks on the door and some of the things we were given here already disappeared. Water and food is enough. IOM, Save the Children, JRS and some local NGO’s come almost every day.

As a translator I heard that Indonesia will let us stay here one year but after that one year what will happen to us? I have dreams of school, also my friend and our five friends. We wish to study! What will happen to us?


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