In the summer of 2012, when a particularly frightening episode of anti-Rohingya violence broke out in the capital city of Rakhine State of Myanmar, Sittwe, I was a second-year physics student at the city university.
The Buddhist residents of Sittwe were attacking Rohingya homes and businesses with makeshift weapons. The soldiers, who had allegedly been sent to the city to help end the violence, fired at the Rohingya with real ammunition.
When he was a young Rohingya Muslim, he knew that if he went out he would be tortured and killed by angry Buddhist mobs or by military troops. Then, I hid inside my bedroom. After spending a week in hiding without food or other supplies, the immigration authority informed me that I was no longer a student: they expelled me from Sittwe University and denied me an education as a result of the racial segregation plan that the authorities of Myanmar imposed on the name "keep the peace,quot;.
A few days later, they forcibly sent me back to my hometown, Maungdaw, which is located in Rakhine state, near Myanmar's border with Bangladesh. But I didn't find security there either. Security forces regularly assaulted Rohingya houses and dragged anyone they found inside. They were specifically aimed at young and educated people whom they considered a threat to their authority. Later we found the bodies of some of the kidnapped, while others are missing until today.
As it was not safe for me to return home, I hid in the jungle with my friends for about two weeks. When I realized that I could never return home safely, I decided to leave Rakhine state forever. After a terrifying trip in a small rowing boat with several other Rohingya, I arrived in Bangladesh. Most of the people I traveled with chose to remain in the security of refugee camps in Bangladesh, but I still wanted to live and study in my own country, Myanmar.
I decided to go to Yangon, the most populous and cosmopolitan city in Myanmar, where I had heard that the Rohingya were allowed to register with the local government and live as temporary residents. Since I didn't have a passport or any other travel document, I risked my life by crossing illegally first from Bangladesh to India and then from India to Myanmar. But when I arrived in Yangon at the end of my arduous journey, all I found there was more anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya racism and hatred. The whole country was turning against us.
Finally I had to accept the fact that I was not welcome in my homeland. My plan was to seek refuge in Australia, where I thought I could continue my education. In February 2013, I fled to Thailand by car, passed through Malaysia and took a boat to Indonesia. From there, I tried to go to Australia by boat, but they caught me. I spent a year and a half at the Manado detention center in Indonesia. But while I was there, UNHCR recognized me as a refugee and finally transferred me to community homes of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the port city of Makassar, in eastern Indonesia.
Since then, I have been trapped in limbo in Indonesia. I spent the last seven years looking for a way to continue my education, but I have not succeeded. I know that I will never be allowed to integrate into Indonesian society and receive a university education here. I also have no hope of resettlement in a third country. Given the growing hostility facing Rohingya in Myanmar, returning home and leading a normal and productive life is nothing more than a dream for me.
And my story is not unique. Thousands of young and capable Rohingya eager to study, learn and contribute to their society are languishing in their own towns and cities in Myanmar, where there are no schools and universities they can attend, or in migrant detention centers, refugee camps and other "" temporary accommodation outside Myanmar without access to education.
Even our small community of migrants in Makassar is full of such people. Sajed Durahaman, a 42-year-old Rohingya refugee, was accepted to study geology at Thain Lilwin. University in Yangon, but the government prevented him from taking his place there. Instead, he was forced to wait three years before he could attend Sittwe University, only to be expelled from the country a few years later. Musa Ahmed, a 25-year-old Rohingya, who graduated with a distinction in high school biology in 2012, was also not allowed to attend university in Myanmar. His deprivation of education rights continues in Indonesia.
Today, the world sees the Rohingya as simple and desperate people of the village. But this was not always the case. We are the indigenous peoples of Arakan, which was renamed Rakhine State in 1989, at the same time that Burma was renamed Myanmar, and we have played a leading role in building a civilization there. And until very recently there were many Rohingya who held prominent positions in Myanmar's government agencies, from the police to Parliament.
Sultan MahmudFor example, a leading Rohingya leader served as secretary of the cabinet in the Legislative Assembly of British India. He later served in the cabinet of former Prime Minister U Nu as health minister. During his time as health minister, numerous health centers, hospitals and schools were established in Rakhine. He was also responsible for sending many Rohingya students to England with state scholarships. Shwe Maung, another prominent Rohingya, served as a member of parliament in the House of Representatives of the Buthidaung constituency from 2011 to 2016, but was eventually dismissed due to his defense of Rohingya rights and ethnic identity. In my hometown, one of my own neighbors, member of the Fazal parliament, also Rohingya, he served for years in the Myanmar Parliament before being removed by his defense on behalf of the Rohingya people.
Today, Myanmar not only excludes Rohingya from all state institutions, but also tries to erase this story. The government is trying to present the Rohingya as people without education, without culture and criminals, instead of being a highly developed community with a different culture and language than us. We have contributed greatly to the development of Myanmar in the past and, despite all that we have been through, we still have the ambition to contribute to the country we call home.
Over the years, no doubt, we fall behind as a result of the oppression we have been subjected to. After all, people who cannot stay on their own do not have access to sufficient nutrition and medical care, people who do not receive support from their government and are categorically denied access to education are inevitably left behind. But this does not mean that we do not have the will, the potential and the capacity to help the development of our country.
A Citizenship Act of 1982 excluded us from the 135 recognized ethnic groups in Myanmar, effectively leaving us stateless. The government said we are not indigenous to Myanmar, but only Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh who arrived during British colonial rule. The authorities still call us Bengali, which suggests that we are "illegal immigrants." We have been denied the most basic human rights.
Despite all this, many of us do not give up. Thousands of young Rohingya as I press against all these obstacles to obtain an education. The Myanmar government was not happy with this, because they know that educated Rohingya would pose a great risk to their apparent plan to eliminate each of us from the country. That is why they specifically target the young and educated during their "cleaning operations,quot; against us.
You cannot allow this to continue. The world needs to hear the plight of the Rohingya. We need a permanent solution and not incremental solutions. The international community needs to take immediate action and pressure the Myanmar government to eliminate the citizenship law of 1982. We should have the opportunity not only to return home safely, but also to live there safely and with dignity.
While I recognize that all this will not happen overnight, there are things that can be done to help Rohingya today. International media can change the way they represent Rohingya. They can resist buying propaganda from the Myanmar government and stop talking about us as if we were ignorant and ignorant victims and begin to recognize who we really are: proud, intelligent and capable people who have contributed greatly to the construction of contemporary Myanmar . The international community can take steps to help generations of Rohingya youth who have been chosen simply to pursue an education. They can create opportunities for us to continue our education outside Myanmar so that we can fight more effectively for the well-being of our people and our country.
We need the world to stop painting us as passive victims and see us as future leaders in exile.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.