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Cheat sheet:

Habiburahman

Meet the man who has escaped torture, persecution, and detention in his own country.

Frankie Breen
Sydney Opera House

When Habiburahman, known as Habib, was just three years old his country’s military leader declared that his people, the Rohingya, were not one of the 135 recognised ethnic groups that formed the eight ‘national races’. Habib was left stateless in his own country and the United Nations declared the atrocity a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

For the first time, a Rohingya speaks up to blow the whistle on the injustices – which “bear the hallmarks of genocide” – facing his people. At Antidote festival this year, Habib is here to tell this urgent story, and we’ve put together what you need to know about this growing global humanitarian crisis.

Who are the Rohingya?

Habib was born in 1979 and was raised in a small village in the Rakhine state of Western Myanmar (previously known as Burma). Thousands of Rohingya are crossing the border of Myanmar to Bangladesh every day, fleeing the brutal violence of the state military’s violent offensive against the Rohingya. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority amongst a largely Buddhist state. 

This pattern of radicalisation is hardly new. The Myanmar government have carried out military operations against the Rohingyas dating back to 1948. For decades, the Rohingyas have faced a callous cycle of violent repression and discrimination. The Rohingyas have been denied citizenship since 1982, are excluded from education and certain professions, and were limited to two children.

Where are the Rohingya now?

In 2017, over 600,000 desperate Rohingyas have fled their homes in the Rakhine state. 

Satellite images of the Rakhine state confirms the Myanmar forces are setting villages alight and using bulldozers to erase the dozens of villages.

On top of this, Myanmar’s military are accused of carrying out massacres, rapes and widespread looting. 

The plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people is said to be "the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis and a major humanitarian emergency".

Where is Habiburahman now? 

Habib, though, left the scene 18 years ago, aged 19 – well before the violence accelerated. After fleeing Myanmar he passed through Thailand and Malaysia where he faced further discrimination and violence. In 2009, Habib tried to reach Australia by boat and despite being recognised within months as a genuine refugee, Habib spent nearly three years in Australian immigration detention centres awaiting citizenship,

Protesting the delays, Habib staged a rooftop protest and a hunger strike on the roof of a building at the Darwin Detention Centre. Habib was convicted of damaging commonwealth property and in turn was denied a protection visa on the basis he failed the ‘character test’, and was placed on a removal pending bridging visa. In 2012 Habib was released.

Habib was asked to address European Parliament to speak about his people’s plight, however due to his visa conditions he is prohibited to leave the country, or re-enter if he does, and is now pleading with the Australian government to grant him a travel visa.

Habib’s book,  First They Erased Our Name, cowritten with French author Sophie Ansel, chronicles his story and the story of the Rohingyas, and will be published in Australia on 6 August. 

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