Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs collaborated with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to host Imran Mohammad Fazal Hoque for a conversation Nov. 6 about his experience as a stateless refugee.
The event included moderator and panelist Sudipta Roy, a senior research fellow for the World Faiths Development Dialogue, a nongovernmental organization housed at the Berkeley Center. Professor Dina M. Siddiqi, a cultural anthropologist who sits on the board of numerous journals and researches various topics ranging from critical development studies to transnational feminism, was also a panelist.
Hoque discussed at the event the challenges he has faced as a stateless Rohingya refugee and how writing provided an outlet for him to share his and fellow Rohingyas’ stories. Hoque said that he has taken several efforts toward pushing U.S. policymakers to enact legislation targeted at helping Rohingya refugees access education.
Hoque, who spent five years in an Australian detention center where he taught himself English, said that he could have never imagined being able to work in the United States.
“Just a few years ago, I never thought I would be able to talk about my experiences and work in a country like the United States,” Hoque said at the event.
Hoque said that during those five years in the detention center, he fell in love with writing.
“I feel like I was there for five days because it allowed me to communicate with the rest of the world as well,” Hoque said.
Hoque said that writing allows him to share information about the Rohingya people. Hoque added that in efforts to persecute the Rohingya communities, the Myanmar government did not allow the Rohingya language to be written down and did not allow the Rohingya people to have access to an education, which has caused the larger world population to be unaware of the Rohingya’s plight.
“I write because writing allowed me to let the world know that Rohingya people exist,” Hoque said. “They didn’t want us to have a voice.”
Hoque’s focus is currently on helping the Rohingya communities in the United States.
“I want to make my ideas very narrow so that I can at least solve one problem,” Hoque said. “If I am talking about Myanmar, if I am talking about Bangladesh, if I am talking about Malaysia, it’s literally out of my control.”
Hoque said the first step to help these communities in the United States is by giving them access to an education, which will in turn give them the power to challenge the persecution they have faced in their home country as well as abroad.
“The main point that I’m trying to make is that I want them to be educated, I want them to know their rights,” Hoque said.
Hoque also discussed the need for the Rohingya culture to be preserved, which he said will be lost if they continue to lack access to an education.
“I want my community to have the resources,” Hoque said. “I want them to send their kids to school, so that if we have enough educated Rohingya, then we can work together to preserve our culture in different states.”
Hoque said that he worries that younger Rohingya generations born in the United States will soon lose touch of their cultural roots.
“If we don’t preserve culture in this nation, then these Rohingya children will not know anything,” Hoque said.
Hoque said that he has experienced little help from U.S. policymakers despite his efforts in increasing the accessibility of education for Rohingya refugees.
“We don’t have enough manpower,” Hoque said. “We don’t have enough resources or finances. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, money and manpower. You need all of these resources, and without these resources, you can’t do it right now.”
Hoque said that despite the hardships he and the rest of the Rohingya community have faced, he said that faith and his experiences have made him stronger.
“But through faith, they are surviving, and they will survive,” Hoque said. “It’s because of my experience, I am who I am today. This struggle made me stronger.”