Palmerston North welcomes influx of Rohingya refugees

Rohingya refugees, Mohammed Kamal, right, Khafs bindi Slammat, in the orange headscarf, Jainaff, 2, and Umar, 4 months.
Palmerston North welcomes influx of Rohingya refugees

Rohingya refugees, Mohammed Kamal, right, Khafs bindi Slammat, in the orange headscarf, Jainaff, 2, and Umar, 4 months.

He fled in the dead of the night, knowing he could be captured and shot at any moment.

Mohammad Kamal is the newest Rohingya refugee from Myanmar to call Palmerston North home. He says life here is far different to the one he used to lead.

Kamal was 19 when he fled his family farm in the northwestern Rakhine State when his home in Myanmar had become too dangerous.
Khafs bindi Slammat with her son Umar, 4 months, are the newest Rohingya refugees to move to Palmerston North
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Khafs bindi Slammat with her son Umar, 4 months, are the newest Rohingya refugees to move to Palmerston North

Life there was knowing you could be shot at any time, he said.

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Conflict, chaos and violence has bled through the state since the 1970s, when a militant group came to power.

Kamal was one of the many Rohingya to witness ethnic violence and be denied citizenship.

Following Myanmar’s democratic election in 1990, Kamal said the situation in Rakhine worsened as the military clung on to power and refused to recognise the result.

Military groups and those he called “terrorists” began an onslaught on Rohingya people. “They burn all their houses and all their young children they’re put into the fire.”

So Kamal fled in the dead of the night. He hid and journeyed in two trucks and later a boat, to escape military control.
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“It’s very dangerous. If they saw me they arrest and kill.”

However, his escape hit a hurdle on his arrival into Thailand when his imitation documentation was taken by immigration. About 500 Thai baht solved his problem and earned his release.

Yet he was stopped again on a Thai train and arrested by police for not having the proper documentation.

From there, Kamal and a group of other men with mixed nationalities were released at the Thai-Myanmar border.

The situation was grim. Kamal said the men were forced to swim across the Moei River, knowing they would likely be shot when they got to the other side.

So they took their chances. They swam away from the authorities and headed back to the Thai border.

All but one managed to survive. Cold, wet and exhausted after not eating for about three days, the men arrived on the doorstep of a Muslim mosque. It was here their luck began to change.

Kamal found work making roti flatbread and worked on saving enough money to get himself to Malaysia.

He worked hard for five years, managing to send money back home to his parents and siblings, and eventually to pay an agent about 1200 baht to smuggle him into Malaysia.

Kamal was one of many bodies lining the back seat, floor and boot of a car as they were smuggled into their new home.

Those who died along the way were dumped along the roadside, he said.

Kamal eventually ended up in Kuala Lumpur. In the 13 years he worked there, he met and married Khafs bindi Slammat.

Together they gained refugee status and arrived in Auckland in March 2017.

The couple and their two children, Jainaff and Umar, now live in Palmerston North where it was “very safe for my children and family”.

The first intake of Rohingya people arrived in December. Now there were almost 50 Rohingya residents in the city

Red Cross humanitarian services manager Sonja de Lange said it was great to see the community growing. She welcomed the family, saying it was likely they had not heard the words “you’re welcome” in about 20 years.

– Stuff https://www.stuff.co.nz

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