Repressed, discriminated against, persecuted and denied citizenship in their own country of Myanmar, the Rohingyas are the largest stateless population in the world today. According to the Human Rights Watch, since August 2017, more than 671,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state to escape the military’s large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing.
While most have escaped Aung San Suu Kyi's democractic dictatorship in Burma by crawling to the nearby states of Bangladesh and India, but there is also a small community of about 350 Rohingya Muslims who are seeking refuge in Bradford. Among those is Sirazul Islam, from the 'Kutupalong camp' in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh who landed at Manchester in 2008 with 40 such refugees through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Home Office Gateway Protection UK.
“My parents are from Rakhine and in 1982 following the wave of persecution they ran away to Bangladesh. I was born in the refugee camp and spent eight years there, before the UN came to our rescue,” he says.
Today, Sirazul speaks about his fearful days whilst in the camp living under dire humanitarian conditions from the lack of basic healthcare and food, cramped shelter, restricted movement, and zero education. Having spent 11 years of his life in the UK and currently a naturalised British citizen, he recalls of the initial support he had received from the English government and local community right from staying in council houses to studying in state schools.
“Coming to the UK was not our choice. We were chosen by the UN and because we hadn't really seen live outside of the refugee camps, we didn't question the decision and grabbed onto the opportunity as soon as were given one.
“When we came to the UK, we didn't know any English, it was a completely different culture for us, and it would have been very difficult to assimilate with the local community had they not helped us with basic communication and integration,” he says.
Sirazul is one of the many activists at the British Rohingya Community (BRC) which aims to pressure various governments across the world in acting against the Burmese military and help in resettling the displaced Rohingyas in the UK. BRC was initially established as the Bradford Rohingya Community in August 2008 by various Rohingya members including Sirazul's elder brother and General Secretary of BRC, Nijam Uddin who had faced persecution in Myanmar and had come to the UK through the UNCHR and Home office Gateway Protection UK. But aside from rehabilitation, many of these Rohingya members have also contributed back to the British society in form of teachers, sports people. Today, Sirazul is completing his A levels in History, Sociology and English Literature and Language and talks about his intent of working in the field of “International human rights and law”.
“I want to be able to help people who have been in a similar situation as me and my siblings among others. I feel like I have an obligation to society because someone one day thought about helping me out and because of that now I am in such a good place,” he syas.
Today, as the military with “genocidal intent” continues to be on the rampage of mass killings, sexual violence, and widespread arson, amounting to crimes against humanity on the watch of Aung San Suu Kyi, her nobel peace, the UN has said would not be stripped off her despite the Rohingya crisis. Meanwhile, military and civilian officials have repeatedly denied that security forces committed abuses during the operations, claims which are contradicted by extensive evidence and witness accounts.
For more information about BRC visit: http://britishrohingya.co.uk/