Plea to take more refugees

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By KA­RINA ABADIA

WATCH­ING Ro­hingya asy­lum seek­ers on tele­vi­sion hits home for Mo­hamed Shah Alam Ali. He is one of the lucky ones. The for­mer refugee came to Auck­land with his brother in 2012.

He is Ro­hingya – a Mus­lim eth­nic group which the United Na­tions de­scribes as one of the most per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties in the world.

They are de­nied cit­i­zen­ship in Myan­mar; of­ten sub­jected to forced labour and not al­lowed to travel with­out of­fi­cial per­mis­sion.

Yet they’ve lived in the Rakhine State for many cen­turies.

‘‘The Burmese Gov­ern­ment wants to elim­i­nate Ro­hingya peo­ple be­cause we look dif­fer­ent and have a dif­fer­ent reli­gion,’’Ali says.

Thou­sands of Ro­hingyas have fled by boat to Malaysia, In­done­sia and Thai­land in re­cent months in what has been called a refugee cri­sis.

Ali’s dis­place­ment be­gan in 1995 when his fam­ily farm was con­fis­cated by Burmese au­thor­i­ties.

He and his fa­ther fled to a nearby state. Ali worked in a fac­tory where he ad­vo­cated for work­ers’ rights.

‘‘The au­thor­i­ties tar­geted me. I was de­tained for two days and beaten up. I was wor­ried if I was de­tained again it would be for a long time or I would be forced to work in the mines.’’

So Ali fled to South­ern Thai­land, smug­gled on a bus.

Cross­ing the bor­der was a night­mare, the 36-year-old says.

‘‘They put me in the lug­gage [com­part­ment] with about 15 other peo­ple. It took eight hours. I couldn’t breathe eas­ily and it was very hot.’’

The traf­ficker who picked him up de­manded more money, which Ali didn’t have.

‘‘The guy sold me to a con­struc­tion com­pany. I had to work for a year to pay back the money.’’

Then he es­caped and found work as a house painter. But life is very hard for un­doc­u­mented peo­ple in Thai­land, he says.

‘‘Some­times they ar­rest peo­ple and send them back home.’’

Ali paid traf­fick­ers to get his younger brother to Kuala Lumpur in 2006. He fol­lowed a year later.

Ali worked at the UN Refugee Agency as an in­ter­preter for four years be­fore be­ing ac­cepted into New Zealand.

Ali, who lives in Pt Eng­land, says he’s grate­ful to be here but wor­ries about his four sib­lings back in Myan­mar.

They are among more than 100,000 Ro­hingyas who have been kept in camps for in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple since the 2012 Rakhine State ri­ots.

He con­tacted them in 2014 af­ter ar­rang­ing for a phone to be smug­gled into the camp.

‘‘They can’t leave and they can only get a small por­tion of food. They want to bribe the au­thor­i­ties and con­tact the hu­man traf­fick­ers. ‘‘I told them not to. ‘‘I’ve suf­fered a lot and I’ve seen a lot of things. I don’t want them to go through that.

‘‘Now I’m watch­ing the news on TV and some­times cry­ing. If my sib­lings got on a boat I would be heart­bro­ken.’’

Pt Eng­land res­i­dent Jony­batun Yusuf is also of Ro­hingya de­scent.

The 63-year-old says what’s hap­pen­ing in Myan­mar amounts to geno­cide.

The New Zealand Gov­ern­ment needs to in­crease its refugee quota and put pres­sure on the Burmese gov­ern­ment to stop per­se­cut­ing the Ro­hingya, he says.

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