We cannot forget the Rohingya at this time. 7 months ago, in February 2015, Abdul, a 30-year old Rohingya, left his home and family in Myanmar and travelled by boat to Malaysia in hopes of securing a job and being able to provide a better life for him and his family. On his journey, he recounted 73 Rohingya that died on the boat he travelled on – two of them were his friends. One month later, on March 6, 2015, Abdul’s wife and his recently born son boarded a boat in hopes to join him and reunite as a family.
One month into his wife and son’s journey, Abdul made a deal with a Rohingya agent aboard the same boat as his family. So long as Abdul would pay for the agent’s SIM card phone plan, the agent would allow Abdul to speak to his wife. Abdul came to find that his son became really ill at sea. He pled with the agent to bring his wife and son ashore. The agent explained that it is risky and that they could easily get caught. After some discussion back and forth, Abdul offered $1650.00 each for his wife and son, the current market price to smuggle Rohingya ashore, to the agent. The agent said he will do what he can, but urged Abdul not to call him again but rather, he will be in contact.
One month later, in May, Abdul spoke to a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and explained how he is still waiting for a call from the agent and is unsure of the whereabouts of his wife and son. A few days later, he finally heard from the agent and was able to speak to his wife. Sadly, the news was not good: his wife explained that the entire crew had abandoned ship and the passengers were left forsaken at sea. A few days later, his wife’s phone cut out and Abdul, once again, lost contact with his family.
Another month later, in June, Abdul was able to speak to his wife again. The boat his wife and son were on arrived in Malaysia and the passengers were transferred to an “immigration detention center” in Kedah, Malyaisa. Through a contact in Malaysia, Abdul was able to speak to his wife. When he spoke to her, Abdul’s wife explained that their son is still extremely sick. His wife starts crying, and the contact takes the phone away from her. When Abdul asks the contact to put his wife back on the phone, the contact explains that because his wife is crying, they will not allow her on the phone. Abdul says he will tell his wife not to cry and pleads to speak to her for a few more minutes. When his wife answers the phone, she says “be careful.” The contact, once again, takes the phone and interrupts Abdul and his wife’s conversation. He tells Abdul he does not know why his wife is saying to be careful as there is nothing to worry about. This was the last Abdul heard from his wife or the contact. The contact never called back, and the number is no longer in service.
It has been nearly three months, and Abdul is still anxiously waiting to hear from and see his wife and son. He is longing to be reunited with his family and having a place, together with them, that he can call home. Unfortunately, the fate of the Rohingya is still uncertain as there are thousands displaced and Myanmar has yet to do anything to solve this humanitarian crisis.
In slightly better news, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) is launching a project in Myanmar to monitor and report on hate speech, and to promote public debate and tolerance. As the Rohingya continue to suffer brutalities, either in their native land of Myanmar, through their journey at sea or in refugee camps in neighboring countries, hate and anti-Rohingya speech amongst other Myanmar nationals is on the rise. This project is intended to encourage peaceful public engagement by building a public consensus that hate speech, if left unchecked, will hurt economic development and will reduce international goodwill and support for the country. IWPR is going to encourage constituency building and networking to help aid the situation. I am happy that there are greater efforts being made to give the Rohingya a voice as they desperately try and find a place to call home. I endlessly hope that there continues to be greater awareness of the issues facing the Rohingya on a daily basis, and that we soon find a permanent solution for the Myanmar Rohingya. I hope that Abdul and his family can be reunited soon, as with all the other Rohingya who are struggling within their own country as well as neighboring countries trying hard to live happily, in unity with their families and without fear of persecution.