Rohingya refugees fear for safety of relatives in Rakhine

KUALA LUMPUR: Hasinah Kamal doesn’t know if her sister back in Rakhine state, Myanmar, is alive or dead, and she has never been more fearful.

The Rohingya refugee has not been able to sleep since violence erupted in their villages on Aug 25, after the army mounted a massive counter-offensive following attacks by insurgents on police posts and an army base.

“I haven’t been able to contact my sister and her family in four days and I’m so worried. The last time I spoke to her, they were running away because they could hear people in the next village crying and screaming, and the helicopters above. They also heard shots and bombs.

“Every time I shut my eyes, I see the images from the news of my people, especially children and the elderly who are frightened, hungry and running for their lives, and I start to cry. I feel sad and helpless,” said the 30-year-old refugee who fled to Malaysia nine years ago.

Hasinah’s sister and family apparently fled their village before the attackers reached their home but they remain uncontactable.

“This is the worst attack yet. My sister told me they didn’t know where to go and feared being caught by the military. My sister was afraid for her daughters, that they could be raped or tortured.

“When will it end? Stop burning our homes, killing our people and destroying our families. All we want is to live as human beings,” she pleaded.

Rohingya Women Development Network founder Sharifah Shakirah Husin said the Rohingya here are banking on the international community to step in.

“We are grateful, particularly to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, for openly speaking out against the genocide in Rakhine. But leaders have to do more. We have been persecuted for a long time but never like this,” said Sharifah Shakirah, 24, a Rohingya refugee who came to Malaysia when she was a mere five-year-old.

As a leader of Rohingya women refugees here, Sharifah Shakirah aims to empower them with skills and knowledge, and create awareness of their plight among Malaysians.

“We want people to see us and respect us. It’s not that we want to live here and be a burden to your community. Given the chance, we’d run back to Myanmar. But we can’t. We’re not safe and have no human rights there. We feel misunderstood. People say that we should fight for our rights but when we do, they label us terrorists. So what are we supposed to do?” she asked.

Sharifah Shakirah is also worried about her family back in Rakhine but she has to be strong for the Rohingya women who look to her for support.

“I am traumatised, actually. I can’t bear to see the photos or read the news online sometimes. But I have to be strong for the women. We haven’t been running our language and skills classes here since the attacks as the women aren’t able to focus on anything but the situation back home. But we do meet to talk to and comfort each other,” she said.