June 16, 2020
As a child, Amir fled Myanmar with his mother, grandmother and four younger siblings. The family of six left the country to avoid the racial and religious genocide that has, to date, taken tens of thousands of lives of Rohingyas just like them.
The first border Amir and his family crossed was into Bangladesh, where they stayed for one month before traveling to Hyderabad, India, crossing another border. From the nearest part of Bangladesh, the city was more than 1,200 km (750 miles) away, but the family’s journey gave them a greater distance from Myanmar and a hope of resettling their lives.
Or so they thought.
After a short time in Hyderabad, the family realized they could not generate enough income to support a stable life. Knowing they had connections in Bangladesh, the family decided to return there and craft a new plan. On their third border crossing, Indian police apprehended the family and took them to the city of Kolkata. There they imprisoned Amir’s mother and siblings, and sent Amir to an orphanage.
When Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) first met young Amir, he had left Kolkata and traveled another 1,300 km (800 miles) to New Delhi, India. He was clearly traumatized, poorly educated and struggling to find his place in a reality crueler than many will ever experience themselves. He was only 14.
A group of compassionate Rohingya families had taken him in, offering him food and shelter despite their own destitution. As CERI was asking more question about the boy’s life and plans, the group of adults serving as his makeshift family helplessly shrugged their shoulders; without the constant support of family, few refugee children had a chance at a good future.
By taking a long-term, focused effort in three areas – psychological counseling, education and legal support – CERI showed Amir what a hopeful path forward could look like. Ummid Ki Udan – A Center for Children and Families, one of CERI’s programs in India – identified Amir’s greatest barriers and got to work building solutions.
Amir remembered people butchered, lifeless; his village in flames as his family fled Myanmar. With counseling from his case manager, however, those memories began to fade and caused him less pain in time.
Amir had only completed four years of formal education in his life, but in just six months of educational support, he showed remarkable progress in his reading and writing ability. After-school activities helped him close the achievement gap and put him closer to peers his age in education.
In the spring of 2020, three years since Amir’s family had been jailed in Kolkata, he learned that his mother and siblings would soon receive a trial determining if their border crossing had been illegal. With a date for the hearing set, Amir left New Delhi and headed back to Kolkata so that he might see his family in court.
He arrived in Kolkata months before the trial, and so had to find ways to survive once again. However, this time he was less alone; he remained in contact with CERI through regular phone calls while waiting for his family’s verdict.
On the day of the trial, he made a phone call to Kaynat Salmani, director of Ummid Ki Udan. His family had been declared innocent and they would soon be released from prison.
“He told me, ‘Ma’am, you are the first person who I called. I will come soon with my family and start my education again,’” said Kaynat, describing Amir as emotional but overjoyed.
Amir and his family still have more to do and will continue needing support from the international community. Amir’s sister is now in a children’s home near Kolkata, and due to the unexpected arrival of COVID-19, the family has not been able to travel back to New Delhi as Amir planned.
“I am very grateful to you that you supported my son,” Amir’s mother told Kaynat in a phone call after her release. “I just want my kids to get a good education and move forward in life.”
While little is certain, the future looks brighter than the past for Amir and his family. In the seven years since they fled Myanmar, Amir and his family have traveled more than 5,500 km (3,400 miles) collectively. Yet even after the years and distance, the family has not made the progress they hoped for. Shuffled from oppression to destitution to detention, Amir’s family maintains the dream of a better life they have carried with them since they first left Myanmar.
Help families, like Amir's, have the support they need to reach their dream of a better life.
* Identifying details are modified to protect the privacy of the children and families we serve.