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Shabana's Story

Over 700,000 Rohingya are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, forced to flee Myanmar’s campaign of genocide. This is the story of Shabana, the woman who went back.

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No Human Beings Should Live Like They Do

by Oddny Gumaer

I have a friend who is the age of my daughter. She likes to read and listens to rap as well as classical music. She is interested in fashion and makeup, and when she enjoys strong coffee. She is almost finished with her degree in social studies, and she works as a substitute at different daycares. Like the rest of her friends, she does most of her communications on Snapchat.

My friend’s name is Shabana and she is Rohingya.

When she was ten she fled Myanmar together with her family. They were persecuted and unwanted. Shabana remembers the night they fled: “We walked in the night with all our belongings.” They were lucky and made it to Norway where they are living now. She often thinks of the relatives they left; they fared not so well. In August of 2017 her relatives’ villages were destroyed, their houses burned. As the flames were eating their homes, they fled. They ran with whatever they could carry all the way to Bangladesh. There they were joined by 500,000 others who had also lost everything. They all told stories of unbearable losses. None were unaffected.

Shabana joined me when I recently went to Bangladesh. She went with me to meet her family whom she had not seen since she was a little girl. I will never forget their reunion.

As we drove into the camp, we were met with poverty and despair. People were not meant to live in overcrowded refugee camps. Suddenly before us were two brightly dressed women. They looked as if they were waiting for somebody. And they were. They were Shabana’s cousins and when she saw them she burst out crying. They hugged and held each other while they tried to compose themselves. Then we walked together to the shack where they all were living right now. On the top of a hill was a small structure that held her entire extended family. They were waiting anxiously for Shabana. When she arrived they smiled and ran to embrace her. Then there were more tears mixed with laughs and many hugs. A delicious meal had been prepared and everybody sat down to eat and talk more. We heard their stories and it broke our hearts. They had been punished just for being born Rohingya. Now they were reduced to begging refugees. “Take us with you,” they begged. I would have done the same.

At the end of the day Shabana was overwhelmed with feelings. “It could have been me,” she kept saying. “If we had not fled when we did, it would have been me sitting in that camp right now. It feels so unfair that I have gotten the life I have gotten, and they have gotten this.” She continued: “But what can I do? I could move in with them to show my solidarity, but it wouldn’t help them. I could raise money to buy food for them, but they will soon be hungry again.” There was no easy solution. She concluded: “I think the best I can do is to use my freedom and my voice to speak on their behalf. I need to do what I can so that they can get freedom. No human beings should live like they do.”

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