Fears for fam­ily still in Burma

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By KA­RINA ABADIA

Suo­ran Nisa An­so­rali spent seven years not know­ing if her hus­band was alive.

She had to en­dure an­other year and a half be­fore they were re­united.

Her fam­ily comes from Burma. The An­so­ralis are Ro­hingya Mus­lims, an eth­nic group the United Nations calls one of the world’s most per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties.

The story of how they came to New Zealand be­gan in 1997 when Mrs An­so­rali’s hus­band Ab­dul chal­lenged a Bud­dhist sol­dier in their vil­lage of Kyauk­taw, Rakhine.

He was work­ing as a forced labourer for the gov­ern­ment when an old school friend turned sol­dier at­tacked his brother in the vil­lage. He asked the man why he was hurt­ing his fam­ily.

The man replied: ‘‘ You are Mus­lim, I am Bud­dhist. You don’t have the right to speak.’’

He punched Mr An­so­rali, who re­cip­ro­cated. Know­ing this ac­tion put his life in dan­ger, he es­caped through the jun­gle to Thai­land.

From there he trav­elled to Malaysia.

He and 28 oth­ers protested against the lack of democ­racy in Burma out­side the United Nations High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur in 2001.

They were called ter­ror­ists and threat­ened with the death penalty. In the end they were re­leased from jail af­ter 41 days.

Mr An­so­rali left the vil­lage but his fam­ily was rou­tinely ha­rassed by the army. In Burma if you do some­thing wrong your en­tire fam­ily is tor­tured, 16-year-old daugh­ter Samila says.

‘‘Sol­diers would take fam­ily mem­bers to jail for sev­eral days at a time. They re­ceived no food or wa­ter and were beaten.’’

The sol­diers wanted to know where Mr An­so­rali was but the fam­ily had no idea. There was no phone or mail de­liv­ery at home.

But Mr An­so­rali rang a neigh­bour’s cell­phone and spoke to his wife in 2004. He said he was safe and had en­tered New Zealand as a refugee.

Mrs An­so­rali and her five chil­dren fol­lowed him out here in Jan­uary 2006.

Samila didn’t recog­nise her fa­ther when she first saw him in the Man­gere Refuge Cen­tre be­cause she was only two when he fled.

She couldn’t com­pre­hend that this was to be their new home be­cause she thought New Zealand was ‘‘per­fect’’.

The fam­ily lives in Glen­dowie and Mr An­so­rali is a gar­dener at Sel­wyn Col­lege. His wife at­tends English classes at the col­lege’s refugee cen­tre.

The An­so­ralis are happy here but worry about ex­tended fam­ily back in Burma, es­pe­cially given events over the last six months.

Eth­nic clashes in late May were sparked by re­ports that a Bud­dhist woman had been raped by three Mus­lim Ro­hingya men in Rakhine. Hu­man Rights Watch re­leased be­fore and af­ter satel­lite pho­tos last month of Kyaukpyu vil­lage in western Rakhine, which had been razed to the ground in ar­son at­tacks.

The im­ages caught the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional me­dia, some­thing Samila is happy about.

‘‘Not even the gov­ern­ment can hide what is go­ing on now,’’ she says.

The fam­ily des­per­ately wants an end to the con­flict.

‘‘Our fam­ily in Burma hopes for a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter so they can die all at once. My aunty says she will drink poi­son if this con­tin­ues,’’ Samila says.

She doesn’t of­ten bring up the is­sue with her class­mates at Glen­dowie Col­lege.

‘‘Most of my close friends know what’s hap­pen­ing though.

‘‘We are all hu­man, it shouldn’t mat­ter which race or re­li­gion you are. We’d like New Zealan­ders to know what’s hap­pen­ing in Burma and for any­one who can to go there and help.’’

Photo: KA­RINA ABADIA

Per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity: Ab­dul An­so­rali, his wife Suo­ran Nisa and daugh­ter Samila want to draw at­ten­tion to the suf­fer­ing of the Ro­hingya peo­ple in Burma.

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