The largest Rohingya community in regional Australia is calling on the Australian Government to urgently intervene in the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, but there is a feeling of hopelessness.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar across the border to Bangladesh since August and the United Nations has described the situation as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
A spokesperson for central Queensland’s Rohingya community, Mojib Ullah of Rockhampton, is asking Australia to extend a generous hand.
“These people are facing an untold horror,” said Mr Ullah, who fled Myanmar — otherwise known as Burma — as a child in 1990, and himself spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
It is the third wave of persecution the Rohingya have faced since the 1970s and Mr Ullah said it made it difficult to feel there was any possible future.
“They came to Bangladesh with nothing, but they brought one thing with them — fear, absolute fear.”
Community can’t see any way out of situation
Mr Ullah said the latest crisis made it difficult to think of any possible future, and it felt as though this was now part of their national life.
“We don’t have any hope because we can’t see any concrete action to stop this situation — except issuing our statements,” he said.
Mr Ullah’s three sisters are among those caught up in the latest crisis and they have been living in squalid, overcrowded conditions with little food or water and no security.
“I don’t have an appropriate word to describe it. They don’t talk much,” he said.
“They are shocked and they are traumatised and they are fearful for their future, how it will work.”
Like Mr Ullah, each person in the central Queensland Rohingya community has been affected by the crisis.
“In a certain area there were about 400 villages where Rohingya lived, and out of those 400 villages 288 have been burned completely and those people displaced,” he said.
“So everyone in Rockhampton, every one of them, are going through difficulties because their relatives and their parents, brothers and sisters, have been affected.”
No option for families to come to Australia
The 70-strong community has coped by getting together regularly to give each other support and run awareness campaigns with the wider community to raise $10,000 for the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
However, there is a feeling of despair because there is no option for families to come to Australia.
“People like us, who are here in central Queensland, most are holding either a temporary protection visa or a shared visa which doesn’t allow them to sponsor their family,” Mr Ullah said.
Mr Ullah arrived in Australia in 2012, but still has a wife and two daughters aged five and seven in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Despite working for the Central Queensland Islamic Society, as well as being employed as an interpreter for several agencies, My Ullah is also unable to reunite his family.
Like other Rohingya he is stateless. The Myanmar Government stripped his parents of their citizenship when they fled in 1990 and this is the root of the problem.
“The military has a pre-plan to make the Rohingya people useless, unproductive and stateless,” Mr Ullah said.
As a result, he spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Bangladesh where he was unable to leave because he was not recognised as a citizen.
“A horrible part of my life. I can’t describe it. I don’t know how to say,” he said.
Mr Ullah said he had dreams of a better life for his children so he escaped Bangladesh and made the six-month journey to Thailand, to Indonesia, and then by boat to Christmas Island.
He has never met his second daughter. She was born three days after he left.
“I didn’t take them with me because it was so dangerous.
“That journey is no place for children.
“I didn’t know how it was going to work out and all I had was hope and fear.”
But those feelings of hope are being tested as it has been a difficult four years.
Although he ticks four out of five boxes that identify him has a refugee, he has been labelled as an “illegal maritime arrival”.
He is now on a safe haven visa, but there is no guarantee of permanent residency after it expires in five years and there is a feeling of desperation for his daughters and their lack of education.
“I can provide money for their education, but they can’t get to a school,” Mr Ullah said.
“There are no schools in the refugee camp and then they are not allowed out of the camp to go to school.
“I had dreams of my daughters being doctors but I don’t know if I can fulfil those dreams. I fear that if I can’t succeed in my dream then my future generations will drown in the darkness of illiteracy.”
His future and that of his family remain uncertain, but he still clings to hope because of his daughters.
All the money he earns is sent to Bangladesh to support his family and this now includes his sisters and their families with the latest humanitarian crisis.
But his lot, he said, is no different to any one else in his community.
“People like us, we have dreams, but there is nothing to make these dreams reality.
“Life is not beautiful for everyone.”