Plea to take more refugees
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.