Thursday, 13 November 2014

Rohingya friend: between a rock and a hard place

Out of the frying pan into the fire. Between a rock and a hard place. The latest I read on CNN "Caught between a hammer and an anvil". That's where my Rohingya friend is right now.

I'll call him John. If I call him John, rather than Mohammed, might you better understand he is a human being with feelings just like you and I? (or to paraphrase Obama in 2012, someone who holds within himself the same dignity just as you do and I do).

He used to live in the ghetto, where he would send us updates on their struggle for survival, and the odd photo, of malnourished people wading through mud, fishing for mini minnows to feed their starving children.

Being the oldest of the boys, the responsibility to feed his siblings and find medicine for his poorly mother (with heart condition) weighed heavy on his shoulders. So at a time when most young men would be living it up, studying for a promising future whilst partying hard in the evenings, John took the decision that most young Rohingya men his age are obliged to take: to escape, to find work in order to send money back to his family to save them from premature death due to malnutrition and lack of medicine.

Fortunately for him he did not have to face death by drowning, as for most Rohingya the only way out is via the sea and almost definitely into the hands of the brutal traffickers. John managed to bribe his way out of the ghetto and was smuggled into the city where he faced a new enemy: loneliness. The message he sent me was that people in the city, even ones he knew as a child, would not talk to him. Why was that? we pondered. We concluded it was fear - fear of another person's needs, when you can hardly take care of yourself. Even I was afraid to listen to him, I admitted, because his story was so sad, and I so unable.

He had saved up his every last penny and handed them over to a relative stranger to purchase an ID card and passport, without which he could do nothing. With some regret he realised he had nothing left and would likely see nothing in return. So he had no money, and his place of residence (a relative of a friend) could not go on indefinitely, since all were struggling to exist. I tweeted a little of his sadness and a generous soul stepped forward with some life support: £200 which he managed to send over via Western Union - a little space to breathe.
I said I would pray and advised him to pray. My inability left me depressed.

Then a small miracle: the relative stranger returned with an ID card and passport. Alhamdulillah! For a few days John dreamt of his new future. The world was his oyster. What next? I asked. He dreamt of the UK or USA. That is where I shattered his dreams. "Don't come to the UK" I told him "it is so hard for immigrants these days, and they may not let you in". Having a passport does not grant you entry, he came to understand. Obtaining a visa near to impossible. I suggested Ireland seems more welcoming - I think there is a nice Rohingya community there. But what did I know? Really I knew nothing. He asked if I could find him a job - send him a letter of invitation so he could apply for a visa - if only things were that simple. More let down.

Does anyone have any advice for a young Rohingya man fleeing persecution? Is there any way he could get to another country that would actually let him in, help him find a way to achieve his dream: to find work so he can send money back to his starving family in Burma?

The latest I heard, he was thinking to go to China. Why China? I asked. Did he have friends there? No, it was just the only way out, as far as he could see.

Between a rock and a hard place. One of a million. But surely we can help one?

Latest update: My friend tells me they are hunting for the Rohingya in the city, checking every place to make sure they do not take refuge there. "I am afraid, don't know what will happen next".

If by some miracle, anyone can offer some help or advice, please email me


  1. Hi, I was just wondering about the progress of your efforts to help some of the Rohinga? What happened to the money raised? (I understand you raised over $7000!)

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