PERSECUTED MINORITY: Abdul Ansorali, his wife Suoran Nisa and daughter Samila want to draw attention to the suffering of the Rohingya people in Burma.
Suoran Nisa Ansorali spent seven years not knowing if her husband was alive. She had to endure another year and a half before they were reunited.
Her family comes from Burma. The Ansoralis are Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic group the United Nations calls one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
The story of how they came to New Zealand began in 1997 when Mrs Ansorali’s husband Abdul challenged a Buddhist soldier in their village of Kyauktaw, Rakhine.
He was working as a forced labourer for the government when an old school friend turned soldier attacked his brother in the village. He asked the man why he was hurting his family.
The man replied: “You are Muslim, I am Buddhist. You don’t have the right to speak.”
He punched Mr Ansorali, who reciprocated. Knowing this action put his life in danger, he escaped through the jungle to Thailand.
From there he travelled to Malaysia.
He and 28 others protested against the lack of democracy in Burma outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur in 2001.
They were called terrorists and threatened with the death penalty. In the end they were released from jail after 41 days.
Mr Ansorali left the village but his family was routinely harassed by the army.
In Burma if you do something wrong your entire family is tortured, 16-year-old daughter Samila says.
“Soldiers would take family members to jail for several days at a time. They received no food or water and were beaten.”
The soldiers wanted to know where Mr Ansorali was but the family had no idea. There was no phone or mail delivery at home.
But Mr Ansorali rang a neighbour’s cellphone and spoke to his wife in 2004. He said he was safe and had entered New Zealand as a refugee.
Mrs Ansorali and her five children followed him out here in January 2006.
Samila didn’t recognise her father when she first saw him in the Mangere Refuge Centre because she was only two when he fled.
She couldn’t comprehend that this was to be their new home because she thought New Zealand was “perfect”.
The family lives in Glendowie and Mr Ansorali is a gardener at Selwyn College. His wife attends English classes at the college’s refugee centre.
The Ansoralis are happy here but worry about extended family back in Burma, especially given events over the last six months.
Ethnic clashes in late May were sparked by reports that a Buddhist woman had been raped by three Muslim Rohingya men in Rakhine. Human Rights Watch released before and after satellite photos last month of Kyaukpyu village in western Rakhine, which had been razed to the ground in arson attacks.
The images caught the attention of the international media, something Samila is happy about.
“Not even the government can hide what is going on now,” she says.
The family desperately wants an end to the conflict.
“Our family in Burma hopes for a natural disaster so they can die all at once. My aunty says she will drink poison if this continues,” Samila says.
She doesn’t often bring up the issue with her classmates at Glendowie College.
“Most of my close friends know what’s happening though. “We are all human, it shouldn’t matter which race or religion you are. We’d like New Zealanders to know what’s happening in Burma and for anyone who can to go there and help.