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  • Writer's pictureVoices Without Borders

Ro Yassin Abdumonab's Story

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

"It’s not the virus that wipes out our lives – it is the hatred that forced us on our knees. It's called racism. Racism kills."

First, let me tell you about some difficulties here in the camp. We get just 2G Internet. So, you send me questions and I’ll answer them.

My name is Ro Yassin Abdumonab, I am 27 and I am currently staying at Balukhali-2 Rohingya Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

I had always wanted to be a poet and philanthropist.

But my luck was not with me. 

I wrote many different anthologies in the past but never shared them with anyone. I was afraid of my safety. Because of the hatred and racism towards the Rohingya minority in my country, I suffered so much. I couldn’t speak up there. I would have been killed if I had raised my voice for my people. 

Even though I got the highest grade at university, it was a degree irrelevant to my dreams. What to study was not for me to choose. I was not given any chance to pursue a proper education. My future was denied by others. 

I worked as a schoolteacher in my village instead, teaching English, Physics, and Chemistry.

The biggest and worst conflict broke out in 2012. They attempted to kill all of us with weapons. Some were throttled to death, some were chopped into pieces, and others were thrown into the fire. All they wanted was to eradicate us from this world.

I was not able to complete my university but to leave my homeland, Myanmar. 

My journey to Bangladesh was so horrible. Running from village to village, escaping from burning and killing, I sought refuge in paddy fields and forests. My family and I starved for a couple of days in hiding, eating unwanted plants. The river I crossed was like an ocean for me. I was about to drown in the middle. It was an unforgettable nightmare……

And now it’s me surviving in the protracted camps.

I managed to dwell here without fear of bullets or brutal faces, peacefully. At least I can sleep well and breathe the open air, even though our plight here is miserable. My life in the camp is just passing like other refugees who are staying under a tarpaulin shelter without hope of the future.

All the moments I think about why I have been in this trouble and fear. When these feelings trigger me to attempt suicide, I climb up to a hilltop inside the world’s largest refugee camp, looking east where my birthplace is. That’s a great relief in my mind. Like me “glancing east”, everyone here is praying to Almighty to be home sooner.

In the last few weeks since the coronavirus outbreak, many things have changed.

Fear and panic spread out in the world’s largest refugee camp, where around 1 million refugees reside in a 13-square-kilometer camp. At least 15,000 are under quarantine. Well, how can we practice social distancing when at least seven family members are cramped in a 10-square-meter shelter? It’s even hard for people to sleep properly.

Keep clean and healthy? In the cramped camp, so much dirt and rubbish are in the drains and beside shelters. As you know, how can people stay healthy under the heat of tarpaulin in the hot season when there are barely any trees for shade? These problems make people fall sick.

Some of the NGOs have also left the camps due to Covid-19. Refugees are not getting proper facilities, and many become jobless inside the camp. They can’t support their families like before. There are still a few NGOs who provide masks, medicine, food, and other hygiene kits. Alhmadullialah we get pure-sanitized water. In some other camps, refugees are suffering a lot without having proper water .  

Apart from the coronavirus, hundreds of shelters got burned in the camps in the past weeks. Many have lost everything and are forced to live in open spaces——no roofs, no mats.

And the Amphan cyclone came, another disaster entered the camps. It damaged more shelters and caused floods, landslides and soil erosion.  

All these make me get lost in my life.

Though I have fears in mind, I don’t express my fears to people. Instead, I try to encourage and motivate my community people to stay well and strong.

As one million refugees live in such a small space, people think it is our community. We have the responsibility to save people’s lives. We know, if the virus keeps outbreaking inside the camps, many are going to die. It will be a huge loss for all in a short time.

Most of the refugees buy masks from shops or make masks at home. There are also many clinics where people go and get treatment. Some people also buy medicine from pharmacies.

Working as a freelancer in the camp, I keep writing poems, documenting the lives of Rohingya refugees through photography and short filming. I also teach children at home and encourage people to live a happy life during this rough time. I try to deal with my emotions through these things. Yes, it is a bit possible even.

I want to share what we have experienced – it’s not the virus that wipes out our lives – it is the hatred that forced us on our knees, the discrimination that deprived us of our opportunities, the oppression that separated us from our land. The continuous persecution of Rohingya and minorities in Myanmar keeps denying us our right to live. 

It is called racism. Racism kills.

Since living in the camp, I restarted writing poetry, about peace, war, humanity, and discrimination; about my life in Myanmar and struggles in people’s life journeys.

Nowadays, I am known to all as a poet and philanthropist – without fear.

And to brighten my future, I need you to hear my voice.

The story is based on the stories and poetries written by Ro Yassin Abdumonab himself. It’s also inspired by Ro Yassin Abdumonab’s letter written by Lisa Söderlindh, Corona Post. Doom & Bloom. You can find her website here:

Post-interview notes: 

This is Ro Yassin Abdumonab. We were not able to have a video call due to the poor internet connection in the camp so I sent him questions and he answered them. He tried so hard to make a video call and the one time he called, I missed it. Of course not everyone is going to be able to have a video call or a photoshoot. Sometimes it’s ridiculous that we think it is even possible.   

Ro Yassin Abdumonab, is an amazing and inspiring human being. He is a poet, a photographer, a researcher, a philanthropist, an interpreter, and more. He devotes his life to his people. Every time I read his poems, look at his photography; I can always feel his deep sorrow, his righteous anger, as well as his eagerness to speak out. 

Injustice, racism, oppression he and his people have been suffering make his will impregnable. When in his own country, he was oppressed to express his voice; now he needs everyone to listen to him.

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Oct 26, 2020

We have been connected for awhile besides my friend Jaber I would like to get photos of the art I have seen from Refuggee. I have some ideas about them 🙏

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