I come from a village called Nga Sarkyue. It is a romantic place with lots of green gardens and many kinds of trees and flowers. It is surrounded by a small river on three sides, and on its eastern side there are high mountains. We used to go up there with friends to get fresh air and to debate. It is surrounded by farmland as well. But after October 2016, most of that was taken by the Myanmar government.
In the past few years, I became more and more like a prisoner in my village. I could not move freely to other places without getting the permission of authorities – and that always cost a large amount of money.
Things became worse from 2012. In June that year, some Rakhine people killed 10 Rohingya in a village called Toung Gu. Then we heard they and the government were involved in killing hundreds more Rohingya in other towns and districts – burning them alive and shooting them dead. Many women were gang-raped. Villages were burned down and Rohingya were arbitrarily arrested. Many died in jail.
Four years later, when I was 26, nearly 300 villages were burned down by the Myanmar military. Mosques and Islamic schools were also set on fire. Uncountable numbers of Rohingya people were arrested and sentenced to prison.
I also feared being arrested, so around October 2016, I stopped sleeping in my house. Many times I slept in the mud, or in bushes, or up in the mountains above Nga Sarkyue.
The Myanmar government had been trying to dismiss us from Arakan [the Rohingya name for Rakhine state] for a long time. Last year they succeeded.
Armed men arrived one day in August 2017 with big guns. They fired indiscriminately into the village for hours. We had been hearing stories of what was happening in other places. We knew we had to go.
I left my beloved village on 31 August. It was 8.10am – I wrote the exact time. I was with my family, neighbours and relatives. Our eyes were full of tears and our hearts were full of fear.
We walked for a day and reached a village called Singgri Para. Some of us rested there for a week, telling each other the situation would calm down, that there was no need to flee to Bangladesh.
Each day, we listened to the radio for good news about the Myanmar government. But we didn’t get any. When the brutal military set fire to the villages of Duden and Lambaguna, which are near Singgri Para, we could see the smoke. We finally decided to go to the border.
It was a difficult journey. We had to cross rivers and go through long passages of mud. Old people died in front of our eyes and many weak people were left behind by their families because they couldn’t carry them. One night we slept in a mosque in Shilhali village. There was no food to eat.
When we arrived at the border, we had to cross over into Bangladesh using a boat. When I saw the Bangladesh shore, all the fear left my heart. Bangladeshis gave us food to eat – we were so hungry.
I spent the first night in Unsiparag camp, in the hut of a relative who came before me. It was full of mud. I couldn’t sleep all night. I just laid there on the muddy ground.
The next day, I built my own hut, searching everywhere for plastic sheets to cover the roof and walls. I stayed there with my family for two weeks, then we moved to Moinaghuna camp. There I built another hut in the middle of a wet paddy field. We had nothing to drink and no proper places to sleep.
Two months after arriving in Bangladesh, I got married. The wedding had been fixed in Myanmar. We were married in the hut I was living in. There was no ceremony, and no happiness either.
Humanitarian groups are giving us rations like rice, oil and lentils. We are grateful, but it is not enough to feed my family, and we lack fresh water and cover from the sun. The camp does not even have a single green tree. You won’t find one, no matter how long you search.
I face a lot of trouble running my big family of 12 people. Once I get a meal, I need to start thinking about how I will get the next one. When I lived in Myanmar it was easy to run my family because I was a teacher and got a salary.
If we stay in these camps for a long time, our community will lose its religion and its unity. Our children won’t be educated. So despite everything, we want to go back to Myanmar – but only with citizenship and our rights. We will never accept repatriation without the rights the Myanmar government snatched from us a long time ago.
I often think about the future of children, including my own one day. Here we have no education, no schools. I fear we and our children will become like animals if we have to keep living this refugee life.