As a member of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority, Akram Maungkyawmin was not allowed to go to school in his homeland.
But a few days ago, on the last school day of his life, the 18-year-old stood before his year 12 classmates and teachers in Adelaide to say thanks.
“I shall never forget this gift,” Mr Maungkyawmin said to a school chapel crowded with kids, parents and teachers.
“All the teachers who have walked with me on this journey, thank you.”
The ABC followed the young man’s journey through his final year at Adelaide’s Christian Brothers College (CBC).
It began five years ago in Myanmar.
Mr Maungkyawmin said in 2012 his older brother, Imran, was arrested, beaten and jailed by the military.
It was just after their mother had died, leaving Akram and his four siblings orphaned.
Eight men kneeling in a row with their hands tied behind their backs
The siblings decided to send Akram away to avoid the same fate as his brother.
In his final address at CBC, the young man told his classmates and teachers a bit about that story.
“My family provided the money for me to escape to Bangladesh, then Malaysia and finally Indonesia,” Mr Maungkyawmin said.
“Upon reaching Indonesia I boarded an illegal vessel with Australia as my destination.”
He spent time in immigration detention before being granted a bridging visa and offered a place at CBC.
Australian family present for graduation
None of Mr Maungkyawmin’s brothers or sisters saw his final day at school but the people he calls his Australian family were there.
Who are the Rohingya?
The plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees, a Muslim ethnic minority group rendered stateless in their homeland and detained in transit nations, is desperately bleak.
This includes Sarah Ayles, whom Mr Maungkyawmin has been living with along with her husband and two children for the past 12 months.
“I loved being here [at his graduation],” Ms Ayles said.
“I’m proud of him. He’s worked really hard and I’m just happy that I could be here today to share it with him.”
It was just as important to the young student.
“I feel like someone is here from my family, my own family,” Mr Maungkyawmin said.
Two children, a teenager and mother sitting on grass patting the family dog
Each step taking him further from family
He is acutely aware that each step of his journey in this country takes him further from the experiences of his brothers and sisters.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not sharing what they’ve been through.
A few months ago all but one of Mr Maungkyawmin’s siblings fled to Bangladesh after their village was torched.
Last week his brother Imran sent videos of conditions in the refugee camp and Mr Maungkyawmin explained their content.
“They are finding life very, very hard in the camp and the camp condition is really bad,” he said.
Mr Maungkyawmin said the situation was toughest on his younger brother and sister.
“Whenever I call my younger brother he says, ‘man I wish I could go somewhere like you and study, but in Bangladesh in the camp I have no hope. I have no future. I see there is no future for me so I am just waiting to die’,” Mr Maungkyawmin said.
“That breaks my heart.”
A crowd of Rohingya Muslim children, including a few in the front row carrying a bamboo stick.
Photo: Rohingya Muslim children wait to receive handouts near the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh. (AP: Dar Yasin, file)
A refugee population the size of Adelaide
UNICEF’s Australian spokesperson Oliver White has just returned from visiting those same Bangladeshi camps.
He said the influx of Rohingya refugees had created a new city.
“The population now is 1.2 million people who are in need of assistance — that’s the same population as Adelaide,” Mr White said.
“The speed at which people arrived is unprecedented, much faster than when people left Rwanda [during the 1990s].
“We haven’t seen this since the ’70s.”
Mr White is particularly concerned about the thousands of refugee children
“The children that we met are in danger of being trafficked — forced into child labour or early marriage.”
UNICEF argues the first priority is to assist Bangladeshi care for the flood of refugees.
But the organisation said it was also important to see that children started getting an education in the camps.
It’s the key to the future, as one young Rohingya man in Adelaide knows well.
“I wish to give thanks to all of the CBC community that perhaps one day my dream of being a policeman will one day be realised,” Mr Maungkyawmin said.