A few years ago, I’d visited a Rohingya refugee camp in Aceh. I met S, and remarked that he had a cool necklace. He’d smiled sheepishly, and in that moment, I saw a glimpse of every other teenage boy I know.
S followed me around the camp as we did our activities, and I fussed over him, like he’s one of my students back in school. We sat down for a chat and he shared how he was one of 6 children, and he’d taken the boat alone because he “couldn’t work, study or do anything anyway”. He’d also seen much killing. The last time he was allowed to go to school was in 2012.
He constantly worries about his parents and siblings. I asked him what was he looking forward to do when he eventually gets resettled, and he’d said, “Anything. Any work that can give me money. So that I can send home.” He tells me of the friends he’d made on the boat and in the camp and then proudly showed me his room. “Sorry, it’s so messy.” I laughed when he said it. Oh, boy. He insisted we took a photo together.
S and I had a connection immediately when we first met, and he stuck with me throughout, helping me with the younger children as well as gathering the other boys. S is 15.
This is a boy who took a boat alone at 13 and then had to take on the label of a refugee. This is a boy who could have very well been born in another place and circumstance, but found himself in a difficult position from the day he was born. This is a boy who could have been one of my students.
I cannot pretend that I know where he is now or what happened. We weren’t able to keep in touch. Last I heard, the refugees in the camp had been transferred to be relocated. I can only pray that he has found somewhere he can begin his journey again in safety and he gets to help his family like he’d wanted to.
The refugee crisis today in the world is unprecedented. But it’s not something that’s so displaced from us that it’s only happening in the Middle East or Europe. It’s happening in our own backyard.
In June 2012, more than 200,000 people were killed and thousands driven from their homes when violence erupted between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas. Since August 2017, more than 600,000 have crossed the border to Bangladesh, with 300,000 still in Rakhine living in extreme poverty, and are not allowed to travel freely, work or go to school. The UN has denounced the military’s brutal campaign as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. The reality is that Muslim Rohingyas have faced a long history of suffering, persecution & marginalisation. These refugees did not choose to flee – they had no choice BUT to flee.
You see, what we have is truly, way too often, a stroke of luck. What we do with what we have though, is a choice and a responsibility.
There are many organisations doing work with refugees. You don’t have to look far – there are those working actively in Malaysia as well. Go and do your research (don’t be lazy!) and choose an organisation you are comfortable to donate & support. They need all the help they can get. I’ll share a few below as well & feel free to share organisations in the comments section.
I do wish to stay in a world where there are no refugees but that’s not going to happen. So let’s do what we can, with what we have, in the time given to us. We can do something.
Some possible Organisations to support:
Reyna Movement – https://www.facebook.com/reynamovement/
Geutanyoe Foundation – https://www.facebook.com/yayasangeutanyoe/
Fundraising for Rohingya Refugees at Cox Bazaar – https://www.facebook.com/nizar.zalco/posts/1487830384655500