When Hope is All That Remains

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

“We do not know where else we can live”

Today, more than one million four hundred thousand Rohingya, one of Myanmars ethnic and religious minority groups, have been scattered in various countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Srilanka, Middle East and Indonesia. Rohingya people were forced to leave their country of origin, Myanmar, because the development of the political situation is increasingly discriminatory and inhuman. Ethnic Rohingya hundreds of years ago settled in Arakan region, in western Myanmar and have recently been systematically marginalized by the authorities and left without citizenship rights.

Burma Citizen Law which was passed in 1982, is a law that regulates and determines the criteria for citizenship. Ethnic Rohingya are not listed in it as one of the Myanmar’s ethnic groups. As a result they became stateless, without access to jobs, health care, education and political participation. This situation lead to poverty, illiteracy and a life on the very boarder of society and forced many to seek refuge in various countries, travelling perilous journeys on which they encounter similar rejection and threats.

Sholeh Abdurrahman (not his real name) is one of the ethnic Rohingya who fled. With his wife, four children, and his nephew, he was forced to leave Myanmar to seek a safer life. The Rohingya family arrived in Indonesia via boat, which is just the recent part of a ten year journey full of difficulties and uncertainties seeking refuge in foreign lands.

“I lived ten years in Malaysia. We passed through many countries, were arrested and exiled. We were not allowed to stay. In Myanmar we are also not allowed to stay. We do not know where else we can live” he said.

One officer at the Immigration Detention Centre stated there would be more Rohingya families arriving in Indonesia. However, the Detention Center cannot accommodate them if there is no referral or no arrest warrant.

Rejection and inhumane treatment was often suffered.

“We’ve been sitting here two days. There are people who drove us here, but we were told to go away. We are not allowed to sit in front of this place. Officials hit my face”, he explained, pointing to his blue cheek.

“Child too”, he said, pointing at his nephew. “Officials hit … kick … with shoe”, said Sholeh while starting to cry, his entire family joining him weeping.

During their two days in Indonesia, they did not encounter one place that welcomed them. The pilgrims transit shelter they approached would not accept them. Other small hotels or guesthouses nearby also did not want to accept them even if only to stay for one night, so they could report to the Immigration office the next day.

Despite these rejections and resulting sadness after repeatedly being pushed aside, Sholeh and his family still guard their hopes for a better future. Being one of the millions of ethnic Rohingya who have experienced much loss in their life, he holds on to hope, willpower and belief to survive and live in dignity.

After ten years of continued efforts there is no end in sight to his desperate journey. But he does not react with despair and remains determined to achieve his dream of a dignified life. He is filled with hope even if the dream of a better future feels still very far. I hope that fortune and kindness will turn to them one day, let them finally find a place they can call ‘home’.

Silvester Gultom

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