Persecuted man finds peace in NZ

SARAH ARGYLE
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013
Shah Alam Ali

SECURE SANCTUARY: Burmese refugee Shah Alam Ali, 35, has recently found peace and safety in New Zealand.

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A persecuted immigrant who escaped the dangers of Burma has finally found peace in New Zealand.

Shah Alam Ali, 35, was born in Myanmar where he attended school and university.

The Burmese Government failed to recognise him as a citizen and denied him the degree he had earned because he belonged to the ethnic minority Rohingya.

Fear of the police and soldiers prevented Mr Ali from confronting anyone about the injustice.

"I didn't want to be viewed as an alien."

Mr Ali describes living in Burma as a "nightmare" and a place he had no choice but to escape.

At the end of 2005 he was smuggled out by trafficking agents to Thailand.

For eight hours he was crammed into the luggage area of a bus with 15 other people gasping for air.

"There was no ventilation. It felt like the end. I thought I was going to die."

When he finally reached Thailand the torment did not end and he struggled to survive as an illegal immigrant.

Mr Ali tore through barbed wire to cross the Malaysian border in 2008.

He sought asylum at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and was offered a job as a translator.

But the already-displaced immigrant found the isolated existence too lonely.

"The Malaysian Government doesn't recognise refugees so it was like living in a prison. I couldn't go out on the weekends. All I could do was work," he says.

Last year when he heard New Zealand was offering refuge the 35-year-old and his younger brother jumped at the chance.

Mr Ali has a place to call home for the first time and is proud to say he is a resident of New Zealand.

"I feel so lucky and fortunate. It is impossible to return to my home country because there is ethnic genocide against the Rohingya ethnicity.

"They don't want Rohingyan people to live there even though we are the indigenous ethnicity."

The United Nations lists the Rohingyan people as one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in the world.

Five of Mr Ali's siblings and other family members remain trapped in Burma.

"They're burning down villages, homes and killing old people and pregnant women who are unable to escape," he says.

Some family members have managed to seek refuge in temporary refugee camps and ghettos.

The Regional Migrant Resource Centre has helped Mr Ali adjust to his new life. Initially he struggled to find a job but has recently been offered the role of census collector for Statistics New Zealand.

He says without his support the Ali family would be waiting for death in Burma.

"They have no clothes to wear, no food to eat and no blankets to keep them warm," he says.

"It's a tough life for me, I've been struggling forever just to reunite with my family but hope of that happening is fading."

Although Mr Ali is grateful for the safe, peaceful and settled life he leads in New Zealand he misses Burma "too much".

"One day I hope to return but at the moment that is impossible."

As a citizen of New Zealand Mr Ali has applied for a student loan to study towards a bachelor of business at AUT University.

FINDING SUPPORT

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Displaced immigrants seeking safety in New Zealand are finding the support needed to transition to their new life at the Auckland Regional Migrant Services. The largely government-funded settlement agency provides a range of services including job search information and orientation workshops. The service has been providing one-on-one help and support to new immigrants since 2002. Chief executive Dr Mary Dawson says the work of ARMS helps newcomers to get the information and assistance for settlement and employment as quickly as possible. ARMS offers a volunteer workplace experience for new immigrants. To get involved or find out more visit settlement. org.nz or phone ARMS Manukau on 263 5490.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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