Sarai was born in Myanmar. She’s not exactly sure of her birth date, but she thinks it was in 1984. When she was a young child, Sarai’s family fled across the border to escape oppression they and other Rohingya suffered.
Sarai grew up in a refugee camp and met her husband, Kumar*, there. They married when she was 16 and had her first child within a year. By the time she was 23, Sarai had had two more children. Life in the camp was harsh. Their housing was made of clay, tin, thatch, bamboo, and whatever else they could find. The floors were dirt, mud during the rainy season. They slept on simple pallets on the floor. Sarai cooked food for her family over a small clay oven. Water came from a shared tube well and was hand-carried to the home. Everyone took turns bathing at the community pond.
Sarai’s husband, Kumar, sought to provide for his growing family, but it is illegal for a refugee to work. Like Sarai’s parents, they depended on humanitarian aid. Sarai and her mother earned a bit of money by sewing and mending. Sarai and Kumar felt hopeless. Their dreams of returning to their homeland eroded. In desperation, Kumar, along with thousands of other young Rohingya men, subjected himself to human traffickers, boarded their overcrowded boat, and sailed across the Indian Ocean to seek work in another country. Sarai was pregnant with their fourth child.
After Kumar left, a man tried to rape Sarai. She fought back and he hit her stomach. As a result, her water broke and a baby boy was born. Her son still has a scar on the back of his head as a result of the attack. She reported the incident to the local authorities but no action was taken.
Sarai did not feel safe in the camp. She desperately wanted to be with Kumar. Several months later, Sarai took her new baby and her 3-year old son on the arduous two-week boat journey to be with her husband. They did not have enough money to pay traffickers for the passage of the two daughters, so the girls remained with Sarai’s parents in the camp. Several months later, the 9-year-old daughter made the perilous trip with an aunt. After sitting on the boat for weeks, both struggled to walk. Traffickers held them for an additional two months in a jungle camp near the border until ransom was paid. While waiting, their ankles were shackled to keep them from running away.
Despite having no passport or work permit, Kumar was hired at a construction site. He, Sarai, and the children lived on the site, along with dozens of other illegal workers. Sarai became pregnant again. When she was about seven months pregnant, the immigration police suddenly raided the construction site at night. Workers scurried around the site to find hiding places. If caught, they would be sent to detention centers or required to pay a hefty bribe to avoid jail. As Sarai fled in the dark, she fell down unfinished stairs and miscarried. She still grieves the death of the baby.
Soon after the miscarriage, Sarai and her family moved to a small, village-like area near the construction site. The home has two rooms and a shared kitchen area. Several men stay with them and others come for noon meals. Sarai’s sister-in-law also lives with them. Doors are always open, with many people coming and going. The police know where they live and have come several times for bribes. On a few occasions Sarai and her children avoided arrest by hiding at a nearby beach.
Kumar fishes in the ocean at night. Sometimes he works at a construction site during the days. Due to an unresolved leg injury, Kumar is unable to work construction jobs regularly. When not at the construction site he mends and makes fishing nets. Sarai and her daughter help with the mending. The children are not allowed to go to school because of their illegal immigrant status. Her daughter is now 12 years old and vulnerable, so Sarai keeps her close to home. She struggles to keep the active 9- and 5-year-old boys out of trouble. They have been seen begging at a nearby vegetable market. Beginning of this year Sarai delivered her fifth child, a baby girl. She had a caesarian section delivery because of the previous pregnancy traumas.
Sarai weeps for her eldest daughter, now 16, living in a camp. The daughter attends school, but is nearing the age for marriage. She knows well the risk of sexual abuse her daughter faces. Sarai longs for the entire family to be reunited.
Sarai and Kumar have registered with UNHCR. They are waiting to be resettled in a country where they can work, go to school, and have a sense of security. Meanwhile, Sarai lives in fear of police, of jail, of harm to her daughters, of the future. She cries out to God. She is truly a lost sheep.
Saira and her family met with UNHCR officials for two days at their head office in the capitol city. Imagine Saira’s joy when officials told her that she and her family would be relocated to a developed country and would be united with her daughter there! She was not given a departure date, but was told she would be contacted one week before departure. Thank you for praying for Saira! Pray the relocation will happen soon. Pray also for protection over this family as they continue to wait for relocation; there is still a real possibility they could be detained by police.
- Pray that Sarai and other Rohingya like her who are lost sheep will come to saving faith in Jesus.
- Pray that God will hear their prayers, have compassion, and take them to a place of safety. Pray that they will see the saving works of God in their lives and give Him praise and glory.
- Pray that God will give us wisdom and discernment to know what to say and do for Sarai, her family, and other Rohingya who attend our English classes.