Rohingya refugee finds new life in Adelaide after fleeing Myanmar

Rohingya refugee finds new life in Adelaide after fleeing Myanmar

Rohingya refugee finds new life in Adelaide after fleeing Myanmar

Updated 25 September 2017, 15:45 AEST

Five years ago, Rohingya refugee Akram Maungkyawmin's siblings helped him flee Myanmar in search of a better life.

A few weeks ago, Akram Maungkyawmin and his foster mum Sarah Ayles were sitting at the dining table at home in Adelaide.

Mr Maungkyawmin's phone went off with a text from his brother back in Myanmar.

"He sent me vision of our village burning down," Mr Maungkyawmin said.

"People have lost everything they own, some have lost their lives. Our home has been burnt down."

There was other vision too, of smouldering ruins and people fleeing through the jungle.

For Ms Ayles, it was shocking insight into the plight of Myanmar's Rohingya minority.

"Akram said 'look at this Sarah, this is my house'," Ms Ayles said.

"It was up in flames and his village was up in flames and I just sat quietly with him ... what do you say?"

The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority who live predominantly in Rakhine state in Myanmar's west.

They have been persecuted by authorities and subjected to sporadic campaigns of violence for decades.

"The government and the Buddhist majority, they don't like us," Mr Maungkyawmin said.

"It's religion and politics mixed together. They don't want Rohingya people to live in Burma.

"They call us Bengali and say we migrated from Bangladesh, but that's not true. We have been living in Burma for generations."

With the latest outbreak of violence against the Rohingya, the UN has accused the Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing.

Mr Maungkyawmin calls it genocide.

'Suu Kyi responsible for unrest'

While there's some argument over just how much power the country's leader and Nobel peace prize winner Aung Sun Suu Kyi actually wields, Mr Maungkyawmin said she's ultimately responsible.

"She was the most respected person in the world before this," he said.

"She promised everyone she would make peace in Burma between ethnic groups, but when she got power she changed her mind into something else ... so yes, I do hold her responsible.

"She's not even using the name of the Rohingya people, she's just using Muslim or Islam."

Complexities aside, the situation is the simple underlying cause of why Mr Maungkyawmin fled.

"My father died in 2008 from heart troubles and then my mother from the same in 2012.

"When the authorities arrested my brother a few months later, my other siblings took the bit of money my mother left and sent me to Australia.

"They didn't want me to be arrested too."

He was 13 years old at the time.

His journey, both by plane and on boats run by people smugglers, took him close to a year, through Bangladesh, Malaysia and then Indonesia.

Another people smuggler's boat then took him to Christmas Island, where he spent 12 months in immigration detention.

'I had never been to a school in my country'

Now aged 18, Mr Maungkyawmin is on a bridging visa and doing Year 12 at Christian Brothers College.

"I had never been to a school in my country. The government didn't give me a chance to go to school," he said.

"So being here at CBC, it means a lot to me."

But the school's principal, Noel Mifsud, said the education the young man was finally receiving was far from a one way street.

"Akram comes here to be educated and by sharing his story about his background in Myanmar he educates us," Mr Mifsud said.

"I think he teaches us about social justice and he asks us to question deeply what are we doing about those who need help in our society, and the broader global context."

School counsellor Jane Gaynor is reminded of the old saying, "at the heart of education, is the education of the heart".

She said Mr Maungkyawmin has a good and strong heart.

"Of course he gets sad at times and he'll talk about that in his quiet way," she said.

"But the experience of everyone in our school community is that of an enormously happy young man.

"He's an example to us all of the capacity to be able to withstand so much."

Akram plans his future in Australia

Sarah Ayles said her family was learning things too.

"I put my hand up to host him because I wanted to help someone, I wanted to give my life meaning," Ms Ayles said.

"I have young kids and I wanted them to see a different side to Australia.

"We've had our ups and downs and our laughs and miscommunications at times and God knows what he thinks of us, but yeah, he's part of us now I guess."

If he's allowed to stay in Australia, Mr Maungkyawmin said he wants to become a citizen.

For someone who's seen so little law and order, he would like to have a career dedicated to it.

"I want to be a police officer in the future," he said.

"I want to give back to Australia because it has given me so much."