New be­gin­nings for Ro­hingya peo­ple

The Tribune (NZ) - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - GE­OR­GIA FOR­RESTER

Palmer­ston North has opened its arms to wel­come Ro­hingya refugees flee­ing from per­se­cu­tion in Myan­mar.

The Ro­hingya eth­nic group are the new­est com­mu­nity to start life afresh in Manawatu – two fam­i­lies were ac­cepted into the area in the last refugee in­take in De­cem­ber.

For Mo­ham­mad Shafi, his new life in Palmer­ston North is the op­po­site of his ex­is­tence in his former home.

Shafi was born and raised in a small vil­lage near Sit­twe, Rakhine.

Grow­ing up there with his seven sib­lings, he said he wit­nessed his fam­ily’s cat­tle farm get­ting taken over by the military.

Los­ing his fam­ily home was up­set­ting and his whole vil­lage was forced to move as the military took over the land.

He saw his cousin mur­dered in front of him by an un­known group of peo­ple wield­ing ma­chetes and knives and, as a teenager, he wit­nessed po­lice raid and shoot peo­ple in the streets dur­ing un­rest in 1988.

As a 16-year-old he ran back to his school to get away from the gun­fire, while oth­ers fled to the safety of the monastery.

While it was a dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment back then, Shafi said the coun­try’s lead­ers did not, and still do not, recog­nise the Ro­hingya eth­nic group.

Ro­hingya peo­ple, es­pe­cially Mus­lims, have no rights, free­dom or ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion, he said.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional NZ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Grant Bayl­don said Ro­hingya were one of the most per­se­cuted groups in the world.

Shafi man­aged to leave his vil­lage, us­ing his stu­dent ID to cross the coun­try’s bor­ders. He sought work in Malaysia, where he met his wife, Lailah.

The Shafi fam­ily and their chil­dren, Habiba, 5, and Muham­mad Adam, 4, moved to New Zealand as refugees in 2016. They are now based in Palmer­ston North.

‘‘I didn’t have an good ed­u­ca­tion so when I got my two chil­dren, ev­ery night I pray. I pray for them to get a good life and to get a good future,’’ he said.

Palmer­ston North Red Cross hu­man­i­tar­ian ser­vices man­ager Sonja de Lange said Auck­land al­ready had a grow­ing Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion, but it was great to see a new com­mu­nity start up in Palmer­ston North.

‘‘... Ev­ery night I pray. I pray for them to get a good life and to get a good future.’’ Mo­ham­mad Shafi

WAR­WICK SMITH/FAIR­FAX NZ

Muham­mad Adam Shafi, 4, Mo­ham­mad Shafi, Lailah Shafi and Habiba Shafi, 5, are former refugees new to Palmer­ston North.

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