At midnight on August 25, 2017, I was woken by the noise of intense gunfire. I had no idea where it was coming from or what was happening. I was in my bed in Maungdaw Township, in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The shooting continued through the night and into the morning.
Then the town fell silent.
The day was empty apart from the clatter of distant gunfire. There was no one outside. The sound of children playing was gone.
But soon the silence was replaced by the rumble of security force vehicles moving in. I saw troops enter and take up positions in every corner of the town. Then I heard gunfire coming from many directions. I could see smoke and fire from neighboring villages as they were torched. Later we found out that many people were burned alive in their homes.
Next, the military shot at my own village and set it on fire. They burned my house to the ground. My parents and I were fortunate enough to escape. We decided we had to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
Raised in the shadow of genocide
I wonder, if you have ever imagined what it would be like to be a young Rohingya like me who was raised in the shadow of what amounts to a decades-long genocide.
I was born in Maungdaw township in 1991. My life began to fall apart in my first year when my birth certificate was confiscated during a paramilitary operation against Rohingya. This was the point where my life first became interwoven with the genocide against my people.
As I grew older, I encountered a world where every human right was denied to us. I learned how we were marginalized and discriminated against religiously, socially and politically only for being who we are.
Despite this, I managed to receive an education at a government-run school in a rural area. In 2008, I passed my matriculation, the exams to enter university.
As my parents were aging, I was determined to help them and believed my hard work would help me succeed in my career and education. I applied to be a primary school teacher, but was rejected because I was born to Rohingya parents. I found out then I was not eligible for any government job or service in Myanmar.
In 2011, I joined a distance education program at Sittwe University and specialized in English, but in 2012 anti-Muslim riots spread across Rakhine State.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya were displaced and many died, but to this day it remains uncertain how many. When rioters attacked Rohingya the police watched, and in many cases joined in.
After this Rohingya were banned from attending Sittwe University, and I had to abandon my studies. I was 21. I was extremely desperate and full of rage. We lived in fear of death, denied any chance of a proper life.
The years that followed were difficult for Rohingya. All my life our freedom of movement had been restricted, but this was even worse after the riots. Many of us were unable to go to hospitals when we were sick or to markets when we needed food.
Vigilante killings of Rohingya were common. Often Rohingya workers went missing, believed to have been killed. Buddhist nationalists preached against us, saying we were foreign invaders seeking to harm the country. Myanmar’s citizens grew to hate us without ever knowing us.
And then on August 25, my home was burned down by security forces. I became homeless in my motherland.
Plea for help
I am now one of more than 670,000 Rohingya survivors who escaped to Bangladesh since August, haunted by stories of gang rape, mass killings and arson attacks that prompted the world’s fastest exodus since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
And I’ve become a refugee in the world’s largest makeshift refugee camp, where my life is spent trying to survive, relying on aid. The world I knew is gone. The people I loved are displaced, missing or dead.
Throughout my life we’ve raised the alarm to the world about our plight. We’ve pleaded for help. Too often we have met only with empty words.
Last year, the military killed more than 6,700 Rohingya, according to Medicin San Frontieres. I wonder how many more of us have to die for our lives to finally be worth saving.
After decades of persecution of the Rohingya, the world’s efforts have not yet been enough. As we face death, we find ourselves alone. We desperately need more help.