For the first time, a Rohingya speaks up to expose the persecution facing his people.
‘I am three years old and will have to grow up with the hostility of others. I am already an outlaw in my own country, an outlaw in the world. I am three years old, and don’t yet know that I am stateless.’
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, eventually reaching Australia by boat in December 2009. He spent nearly three years in detention centres before being released, and now lives in Melbourne..
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.
‘This is the gripping, chilling inside story of the incubation of a genocide. In a corner of Asia where hatred has raged for decades, Habib’s moving family history emerges as a powerful and, to my knowledge, unique historical document. His compelling storytelling relates how playground prejudice against the Muslim Rohingya of Arakan escalated into pogroms, terror, and apartheid. As he makes his arduous and dangerous escape, he writes “death is always snapping at our heels”. What an incredible story. There are many who, after the killing fields of Cambodia, Bosnia, or Rwanda have said “Never again”. It just did, in Burma, and here’s how.’
Jonathan Miller, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Channel 4 News
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‘More than 688,000 Rohingya fled western Burma since August 2017, at the launch of punitive operations, a sweep of violence without precedent. Habiburahman, though, left the zone well before this happened — 18 years ago. He passed through Thailand and Malaysia, was stopped by a fishing boat, then tried to reach Australia by sea, getting as far as the Christmas Islands. After two and a half years in Australian detention centers, he was released at the end of 2012.’
‘Habiburahman without doubt presents an unambiguous view of the Burmese situation … But there is little evidence from the Rangoon government to seriously deny it.’
‘The remarkable first personal account from a Rohingya of his people’s persecution in Burma.’
‘The book is written in simple language and tells the story without embellishment. There is no need for flourishes; it is relentless.’
Gay Alcorn, The Guardian
‘Here is the first account by a Rohingya of the decades-long oppression of his people, as well as a memoir of his own journey. Chilling and eye-opening.’
‘Written in a simple style appropriate to the childhood it records, the memoir is a devastating testimony of persecution.’
David McKechnie, The Irish Times
‘An astonishing story … a moving read.’
Paul Ross, talkRADIO
‘Habiburahman’s book is a rare first-hand account of what the Rohingya have had to endure over the past few decades, and especially valuable because the events it describes took place long before most of the world had heard of them. Told in short, punchy chapters, written in an urgent present tense …’
David Eimer, The Spectator
‘The greatest barriers to stories such as Habiburahman’s being heard, though. Are invalidation and indifference. Do not be indifferent to this urgent, humane book. Read it, share it, talk about what has been happening — and in so doing safeguard the humanity of Habiburahman, the Rohingya and all asylum seekers, as well as the imperilled humanity of this country.’
Maria Takolander, The Saturday Paper
‘[First, They Erased Our Name] tells the first-hand truth behind the global humanitarian crisis.’
‘For the first time, Habib’s book gives written voice to the history of fate and his people who have been left stateless in their own country. Habib’s own story is an odyssey of danger, resistance, torture and courage.’
James Taylor, Surf Coast Times