Read the first-hand account of a former Rohingya refugee who lived in a refugee camp for 18 years. In 1991, Rafique, his parents and his baby sister, fled Myanmar with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They now live peacefully in New Zealand but his experience still haunts him.

***Trigger warning: Mentions violence and sexual abuse***


I have experienced injustice in ways a human never should.

My name is Rafique and I am from Rakhine State in Myanmar-formerly Burma. In 1991, at the age of ten, I fled my country due to the ethnic and religious persecutions of the Burmese Government.

My father was a farmer—he grew rice and wheat and raised goats and cattle. My mother helped him and looked after my sister who was only six months old at that time. We are Rohingya—a minority people group.

Armed conflict between minority groups and the government’s military forces have gone on for decades. Before we fled the country, we lived under heavy restrictions. We weren’t welcome to go to school, worship at religious centres and we weren’t allowed to get married.


6I1A9491.jpg
The Rohingya refugee crisis was once described as the "fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world" by the UNHCR.

Rohingya girls were sexually abused by soldiers, there were murders, looting, and the Rohingya’s were economically crippled.

A day I will never forget, was when the Burmese Government confiscated our land. They said, “This is not your land, you can’t grow crops here”. Our house was looted and burnt to the ground. They told us, “You’re not Burmese, you have to leave the country”.

My family and I escaped with nothing. After our house was left in ashes, we fled to Bangladesh on a small, wooden boat. All we had with us was rice, chicken curry, and the clothes on our backs.

We travelled for two hours and crossed the river to Bangladesh, where we stopped. We built a hut with bamboo and plastics we found near Teknaf. We stayed there for a year, then the Bangladeshi Government told us to move to the Kutupalong refugee camp. Kutupalong is near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which is now the biggest refugee camp in the world, home to about one million refugees.

bangladesh-map.jpg
Map of where Rafique travelled to.

When we arrived at the Kutupalong refugee camp, it was crowded, dirty, unsanitary, unhealthy and everyone was malnourished. We were living in a little 7.2sqm hut made of bamboo. Some people slept on mats, but the poorest slept on the ground. Whenever a cyclone or the monsoon rains came, our huts were ripped apart.

In the camp we were not allowed to go out, we couldn’t play in open spaces, we weren’t allowed an education and we didn’t have proper food or support. The only food we got was lentils, rice, salt and oil. I remember waiting in line for two to three hours just to get medicine.


The living conditions were very poor.

We spent seven years in the Kutupalong camp. Then we moved to the Nayapara refugee camp by rickshaw. In 2006, resettlement became an option for the Rohingya. In 2009, my family and I were some of the few fortunate enough to make it to New Zealand.

I spent 18 years of my life experiencing ethnic marginalisation and persecution as a refugee.

 
6I1A9344-(1).jpg"We were living in a little 7.2sqm hut made of bamboo," says Rafique.

Some of my family and friends are still at the camps. The situation is still bad in Bangladesh. There are currently around 855,000 Rohingya refugees in 34 refugees camps in Bangladesh.

Now, the Bangladeshi Government has allowed aid agencies like Tearfund to work there so the situation is better than it once was. I am so thankful for Tearfund who work with my people.

I am just fortunate that I live in New Zealand with my family and after many years can finally live in freedom.

 

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