Voices from the Field: Mohamed from Maungdaw

Why are you in Bangladesh and when did you arrive?

My name is Mohamed and I am from Maungdaw, Myanmar. I currently live in Bangladesh and have done so since 2012.  In 2012 I had to leave my homeland because of the violence and restrictions forced on us by the Burmese military.  I did manage to raise enough money to pay for my education but life otherwise is unbearable there.  I remember when the military would come every-day to my village asking for the men.  I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore and my friends and I decided to leave.

What do you currently do and how does it make you feel?

I am working as a Data Collector for Xchange.org.  I go into the refugee camps like Unchiprang, Hamsarpara, Kharang Khali and Shamlapur and I survey recently arriving refugees.  I talk to them and record the story of their journey, the incidents they faced, and their primary needs in the camps. As a Rohingya myself, I can empathise with their pain.  You have to be strong when you ask them about their experiences and I do feel it’s important to share their stories with the world.

While you were working you found your Grandma and AuntyHow were they when you first saw them?

It was on one of the days that I was recording people’s stories in the Unchiprang camp that I saw my Grandma and Aunty walking through the camp.  I was so full of different feelings when I saw them, excited and sad at the same time.  They hugged me and then my Grandma shared some words with me, “Oh my Grandson where have you been, we have lost our paradise, our home.  I’m so happy to see you now. Please don’t leave me, please don’t go anywhere my Grandson. Please help me.” 

My Grandma was sick and my Aunty was helping her to stand.  She’d been walking for many days and was unable to eat food, only drink water. She’s 68 now and she appeared very weak and struggling to speak.  Since they’ve been here I have visited them as often as I can, and take her to the medical tent run by MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières ).  The medical staff are treating so many people every day that they no longer see people like my Grandma as patients, there are just so many. My Aunty and Grandma now live in the camp under plastic sheets with many other Rohingya villagers.

Can you walk me through their journey as they explained it to you?

My Grandma told me that it would take a whole day to tell the story of her journey.  She explained that they left our home on the 6th September and suffered many difficulties. The military attacked them at gunpoint, looting our shops, raping and shooting people.  They saw a dozen people die and some were burned alive. 

My Aunty managed to pay a man to take them close to the coast.  He dropped them off and they walked the rest of the way.  She said it must’ve taken them almost 4 hours because my Grandma was unable to walk so walk fast.  She had to take short breaks every 10 minutes.  When they got to the river Naf they found a boat man who was shouting to them, “Hello everyone, I am the cheapest smuggler, come come, low fares”, to cross the river.  They got on to his boat and they set off towards Bangladesh. 

When they got halfway the boatman demanded money for them to continue on to Bangladesh.  He charged them. If you can’t pay the fare, the boatman will ask for children, gold or anything of value to him.  They say that this is their business.  It didn’t take long for them to cross.

They arrived on the Bangladeshi shore and the Bangladeshi Border Guard held them there for an hour.  They checked them before pointing them on to a small town called Jaliya Para (Sabrang).  There were local people there helping Rohingya arriving in Bangladesh by giving them water and some money.  From there they were pointed on to the road leading to Teknaf.  They were very lucky because a Bangladeshi charity from Dhaka was helping refugees.  They gave them 200 taka which helped them get the bus to Unchiprang.  When they arrived, UNHCR, the Bangladeshi authorities, and many other charities were there, giving them biscuits, water and plastic sheeting.  All in all, it took a whole day to get to Unchiprang. 

What happened to your uncle?

I got a phone call from my parents to say that our house in Maungdaw had been burned.  It’s a big house that can accommodate 7 people very comfortably.  My uncle is a village doctor and he had decided to stay behind to look after the place while looking after his own business. The Burmese military came back to our village and their burned it down.  He got out thankfully.  We also had our cattle and land taken from us.  All are gone. My uncle says that they also killed 7 people and set fire to many houses that day.  Ours wasn’t the only home they burned, many homes in Rakhine have been burned to the ground. Many families have lived there for generations facing persecution and discrimination.  It makes me so sad to think about what we’ve lost and how we’ve been treated as Rohingya people.

What is your future hope?

My future hope is that I no longer want to be a refugee. That is a hard life to live.  If things changed in Myanmar I would happily go back but there is no way of knowing when that will happen.  Instead, I would like to be resettled in any country that will take me.