Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Rohingya Sisters: Leaving Home for a Better Future

By Kinanti Pinta Karana 

From left to right: Seemal*, 13; Alma*, 14 and Mira*, 15. The three Rohingya sisters were put on a boat by their parents to save them from rape and other forms of injustice in their home country. They currently stay in Kuala Langsa temporary shelter in East Aceh, where the photo was taken. (© UNICEF Indonesia / 2015 / Kinanti Pinta Karana)

Langsa, INDONESIA, 25 May 2015 - It is almost midday when I finally arrive at the compound in Langsa that has become a temporary home for some of the refugees and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Between 10 and 20 May, a total of 1,829 boat people from the two countries have managed to reach the shores of Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, in West Indonesia. Among them are 599 children, including 345 unaccompanied minors.

They braved the perilous sea journey from their respective home countries some of them fleeing persecution and discrimination, others to escape poverty. Many more are still stranded at sea.

As I make my way into the women’s and children’s barrack, I see three adolescent girls clinging together in one corner of the room. I smile at them and they shyly smile back. Only later I realize how precious that smile was, considering the ordeal they had gone through at sea.

“My name is Mira*, I am 15 years old. These are my sisters Alma* who is 14, and Seemal*. She is 13,” the oldest girl explains.
The sisters come from a small village in Myanmar, where their parents still live.

 “Our parents sent us away to save us, because the military threatened us, they wanted to rape us,” Asma says, adding that she and her sisters had to abandon school for fear about their safety.

The unused warehouse in Kuala Langsa, East Aceh, that is converted as a temporary shelter for the refugees from Myanmar. (© UNICEF Indonesia / 2015 / Kinanti Pinta Karana)

Alma and her sisters are among the 112 unaccompanied Rohingya children who landed on the shores of Aceh after their boats were pushed out of Malaysian and Thai waters.

“We thought the journey would be easy,” Mira says. They had initially hoped to make it to Malaysia where they wanted to seek help from fellow Rohingyas who had reached there earlier. In the end, they spent several months at sea.

“We wanted to go to school, our parents said we must have a good future but we couldn’t go to school [in Myanmar]. Can we go to school here?” asks the youngest sister, Seemal.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires governments to ensure all children are cared for in a safe place, with access to education, health and legal services, irrespective of their refugee or migrant status. The photo was taken at temporary shelter for refugees from Myanmar in Kuala Langsa, East Aceh. (© UNICEF Indonesia / 2015 / Kinanti Pinta Karana)

It might take some time, until their dream comes true.  Under the leadership of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR and in collaboration with other organizations such as IOM, the International Organization for Migration, UNICEF is providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees and migrants in Aceh and North Sumatra. UNICEF already delivered recreation kits which can be used for child-friendly spaces and hygiene kits with basic sanitation material which is essential to prevent diseases.

“We are happy to be in Indonesia, people [here] are good to us and they don’t try to hurt us,” Mira says, adding that she wishes they would somehow find a way to let their parents know that they are safe. Just mentioning her mother and father is overwhelming the 15-year old. Covering her face with her scarf she starts to cry. I hold her hand, mustering every strength to hold back the tears.

“I don’t want to return to Myanmar but I hope I’ll see my parents again,” Mira says.

For the time being, the girls are safe. On 20 May, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to offer temporary shelter to the boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

A Rohingya mother and her baby at Kuala Langsa refugee campsite forNMyanmar refugees and Bangladeshi migrants in North Aceh. (© UNICEF Indonesia / 2015 / Kinanti Pinta Karana)

*Names changed