New beginnings for Rohingya people
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
Muhammad Adam Shafi, 4, Mohammad Shafi, Lailah Shafi and Habiba Shafi, 5, are former refugees new to Palmerston North.