First, They Erased Our Name
A Rohingya Speaks
Habiburahman was born in 1979 and raised in a small village in western Burma. When he was three years old, the country's military leader declared that his people, the Rohingya, were not one of the 135 recognised ethnic groups that formed the eight 'national races'. He was left stateless in his own country.
Since 1982, millions of Rohingya have had to flee their homes as a result of extreme prejudice and persecution. In 2016 and 2017, the government intensified the process of ethnic cleansing, and over 600,000 Rohingya people were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh.
Here, for the first time, a Rohingya speaks up to expose the truth behind this global humanitarian crisis. Through the eyes of a child, we learn about the historic persecution of the Rohingya people and witness the violence Habiburahman endured throughout his life until he escaped the country in 2000.
First, They Erased Our Name is an urgent, moving memoir about what it feels like to be repressed in one's own country and a refugee in others. It gives voice to the voiceless.
Habiburahman, known as Habib, is a Rohingya. Born in 1979 in Burma (now Myanmar), he escaped torture, persecution, and detention in his country, fleeing first to neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia, where he faced further discrimination and violence, and then, in December 2009, to Australia, by boat. Habib spent 32 months in detention centres before being released. He now lives in Melbourne. Today, he remains stateless, unable to benefit from his full human rights. Habib founded the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organization (ABRO) to advocate for his people back in Burma and for his community. He is also a translator, social worker, the support service co-ordinator at Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees (RISE), and the secretary of the international Rohingya organisation Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), based in the UK. The hardship and the human rights violation Habib has faced have made him both a spokesperson for his people and a target for detractors of the Rohingya cause.
Sophie Ansel is a French journalist, author, and director, who lived in South Asia for several years. It was during a five-month stay in Burma that she first encountered the Rohingya people and heard of their plight. She returned to the country several times, and also visited the refugee communities in neighbouring countries like Thailand and Malaysia, where she met Habib in 2006. Habib helped Sophie to better understand the persecution faced by the Rohingya, and she has been advocating for their cause since 2011. When the Myanmar government accelerated the genocide of the Rohingya in June 2012, while Habib was detained in Australia, she helped him to write his story, and the story of his people.
Andrea Reece is a translator of novels, short stories, and works of non-fiction from French and Spanish.