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Nurturing Dreams | Keynote Address at UCC’s Refugee Week

By Haikal Mansor

Freedom is costly. Freedom is about how we are being treated. Freedom is about seeing hope. Freedom is about wanting to live dreams. Freedom is about nurturing dreams.

A very good afternoon. My name is Haikal Mansor. I am a Rohingya born and raised in Burma or Myanmar. I am also a member of Rohingya community in Ireland. I currently serve as the board member of Rohingya Action Ireland and General secretary of an umbrella-organisation called the European Rohingya Council.

I am honoured and grateful to be invited to UCC again, special thanks to Dr. Karl Kitching, Dr. Maire Leane, Anne-Marie, and everyone involved in this event. I am also thankful to STAR Society for allowing me to share the panel yesterday with amazing speakers from Direct Provision.

I also thank UCC for hosting a week-long wonderful series of events ranging from talks, discussions, films, theatre, art and photo exhibition to highlight the issues that faced by asylum seekers and refugees in this city, in this country and beyond.

At this critical juncture when fear is manufactured, doors are closed down and walls are being built to isolate, divide and control our hearts, UCC and its University of Sanctuary Committee have opened doors, breakdown barriers and give “Ceade Mile Failte” – A hundred Thousand Welcomes to asylum seekers and refugees to nurture their dreams.

I continue to overwhelmed by the supports from individuals, volunteers, students, teachers, organisations and Irish civil societies to live on the Irish legacy of welcome and embrace of love, compassion and sharing.

The compassion, love and solidarity of this society is deep-rooted as it has travelled a long difficult journey that very few communities have walked on.

Nearly a million Irish men, women and children have vanished and over another million has undertaken a long perilous journey to save lives, to seek hope and to nurture dreams.

It has built its destiny as a community every nation gives an example of and every people who wants to be Irish and the resilient Irish people. Last Monday marked 100th Year when First Dáil or the Irish Parliament was convened at the Mansion House in Dublin. I still clearly remember visiting the house on many occasions and introduction of the nation’s history by Dublin Lord Mayor Mícheál Mac Donncha. A particular sign strikes me so deeply, that the compassion and solidarity showed towards the Irish victims of the Great Famine by Choctaw Native Americans of Oklahoma. Despite they were on the Trail of Tears, they donated $170 to the Irish people in 1847. A gesture that continues to bind many bonds of hearts and minds.

Today, there are countless of endless wars manufactured based on lies and fears from Iraq, Yemen, Syria to Afghanistan, countless of conflicts in Africa, and religious and racial persecutions as the results of “Us vs Them” mentality, and the rise of dangerous nationalism, economic crisis because of failed system, and ongoing genocide against our Rohingya people in Burma.

The world becomes more open as the technology advances and the flow of information reaches every corner of the earth, and yet we become more isolated, more uninformed and less concerned about what is happening on other side of drawn borders and walls on the same planet that we all share.

This year or the last year, there is a record number of displaced people worldwide. 68.5 million human lives are torn apart because of these heinous failures and man-made disasters that are being created under our watch.

These millions of refugees are like you and me. These millions of internally displaced persons have hope like you and me. These millions of stateless people have dreams like you and me. These hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers deserve a dignified life like you and me.

Generations of these people are living in limbo, are denied a home, denied justice, and most importantly denied hope, dream and dignity.

Last year, I shared the same podium with Sam Taylor on this campus.

It was the time of a great tragedy, a time when our moral conscience was tested, our solidarity was tested, our system of nations was tested. It was when nearly a million of our Rohingya people, that is a quarter of the entire Irish population, were forced to flee their country of birth from Northern Rakhine State of Burma. It was the time when hundreds of thousands of Rohingya men, women and children cried for help, for justice and for accountability. It was the time when a genocide is being committed under our own eyes when the world has said “Never Again” after Rwanda Genocide. It was the time the world collectively failed. It was the time when our collective moral conscience has failed.

South Africa Apartheid regime was gone. Nazi Germany was defeated. Rwanda Genocide was ended. However, there is still apartheid against my people in Burma. There is still internments and policies of extermination against my people in Burma. There is still an ongoing genocide against my people in Burma. A 21st century genocide.

But these people are resilient like Irish during the great famine. These people carry hope like the survivors of the great famine. These people have dreams to nature like the Irish immigrants fled to North America for safety and dreams.

There are over 1.3 million Rohingya in Bangladesh taking shelters from over 40-year of genocide. In the world’s largest refugee camp, there are men who lost their beloved ones. There are women who were raped. There are children who lost their parents.

Inside Burma, there are more than 120,000 Rohingya internally displaced who were uprooted from their homes, who are confined like cattle since 2012.

And there are over 500,000 Rohingya in ghettos across Rakhine State. All of us are deprived of the fundamental human rights. Rohingya are stripped of citizenship, denied of freedom of movement, religion, marriage, livelihood and many more. Rohingya are subjected to Two-Child.

Rohingya are denied of healthcare. In 2010, there was about 1 doctor for 140,000 Rohingya compare to 1 doctor per 863 Rakhine Buddhists. Now there are almost no Rohingya doctors left inside Burma. It is also a medical genocide.

In Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, there was a Rohingya doctor who was providing healthcare for nearly two decades. When Rohingya were displaced in 2012, he was prevented to leave his home who was less than 5 minutes walking distance from the hospital where he used to work. When he felt seek, he was denied a medical treatment in the same hospital, and he died tragically.

I am inspired to become a doctor to serve the community in dire need of healthcare. No Rohingya are now allowed to train and study medicine in Burma. All university education is completely banned for Rohingya since 2012.

When I was denied studying medicine at a government medical school – University of Medicine Magwe in 2006 despite topping in my matriculation exams in the entire Rakhine State. I was denied the education as I belong to the Rohingya ethnic group.

After years of appealing from bottom to top, my freedom was continued to block and deny. I was losing all hopes. I was in despair. I was in a world of upside down. I was just 19 when I left everything I love, I admire, I owe, I dream and I am fond of in my ancestral birthplace.

One of them is my mother. For me there is no one like her. She is my spiritual guide. She is my mentor. She is my friend. And she is my guardian who has singlehandedly raised me and my family when my father was forced to exile when I was barely 7.

It is my mother who persuaded me, pushed me and motivated me not to give up and not to lose hope. It is she who said, “I can die a thousand times being away from you, but I can never forgive myself seeing you loosing hope under my eyes in a place where there is no hope.”

I sacrifice her and she sacrifice me to unlock my freedom. I left my treasure to seek one treasure of education and knowledge which distinguishes what is right and what is wrong in a world where thoughts are blighted by bias and bigotry.

Now I am on my 13th year journey away from her and my place of birth in the pursuit of a medical education to save people’s lives and to live my dream and hope.

I arrived in Ireland in one of the coldest winters in the recent time in 2010. I was living on my dream studying medicine at NUI Galway. I applied asylum in 2011 living outside Direct Provision. Six months later, I was already on the Deportation Order. It shuttered my dream. It ruined my years of hard-working. It destroyed my mental wellbeing. I went into many years of depression coupled with the sad news of my mum becoming homeless for nearly 2 years.

During my struggle without a document for 7 years in Ireland, I found many families. I am being embraced by my Irish friends, lecturers and mentors, my Irish neighbours and my resettled community. They uplifted my spirit.

I become resilient. My hope remains unstained. My dreams survive. My journey of education continues. I walk the walk towards my dreams.

There are over 25 million refugees and displaced persons around the world who are under the age of 18. The age is a prime time for education, a prime time to lay the foundation of their lives, and a prime time to build and contribute the societies.

There are around 6,000 asylum seekers in Ireland at around 40 Direct Provision Centres around the country. Over 30% of them are children. Again, the prime time for education. And many asylum seekers who are confined in the centres, which are nothing more than prison cells where one needs permission to leave, one is being provided with the same food at the same time, one is forced to live in limbo and one is deprived of freedom. And freedom of further education is scarce and almost non-existence for the asylum seekers.

Freedom is costly. Freedom is about how we are being treated. Freedom is about seeing hope. Freedom is about wanting to live dreams. Freedom is about nurturing dreams.

During my 8 years as a “stateless person” living outside Direct Provision without the state’s supports, I died every day. And I was born every day with a hope that tomorrow will be a better day. It is the same with the asylum seekers in Direct Provision Centres where mental health condition is 5 times higher, and over 70 asylum seekers lost their lives along with their hope of nurturing dreams in the new home, Ireland.

Until recently, University of Sanctuary like of UCC become their only viable centre of education. UCC and many other places of sanctuary have opened up the doors to welcome asylum seekers and to nurture their dreams. Every single individual supported by UCC, is like building his or her life and their generations to come benefiting them, their ethnicity and the ever-expanding inclusive Irish society.

More than 70 Rohingya refugees who were born or spent 17 years in Bangladesh refugee camps, were resettled in Ireland. This year is the community’s 10th year of resettlement. Volunteers and local communities in Carlow have welcome the Rohingya community like their own and making community feel at home and sense of belongingness.

The sacrifice of these generous, compassionate and lovely people rekindle the community hope and dreams.

As we marked 90th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., who said “the justice too long delayed is the justice denied.” After years of living in limbo, the community found their freedom and justice in the new home.

When over 420,000 Rohingya children, which is nearly 4 times the population of this city, live without the formal education in refugee camps and who are now considered as “generations at lost”, the boys and girls born in the camps and resettled in Ireland are living their dreams.

A boy who was 12 at the time of resettlement in 2009, now become a profession pilot in Dublin. And another similar aged boy is now studying healthcare at Trinity College Dublin. Another studying aeronautic engineering at IT Carlow. And many other kids in secondary schools. They had no formal education at the time of resettlement.

The girls are now speaking their new home’s rarely-spoken native language – Gaelic. The boys revived Carlow Cricket Club which was defunct in 1982, and brought championship trophies to their new home for the first time in the club’s 40 years of history.

Women are participating in the community. Like our great Rohingya lady Zohora Begum, also known as Daw Aye Nyunt, who was among 2 women elected as members of Burmese Parliament for the first time in the history.

The community finds themselves integrated into the inclusive Irish society when they are denied to be part of the multicultural Burmese society, on which Burma was founded in 1947.

The active engagement, communication, feeling of care, love and compassion, feeling of mutual respect and understanding from the local communities have helped the Rohingya community to thrive and to nurture their dreams in the new home.

In a world engulfed with racism, bigotry, hate and violence, love and kindness and compassion are the answer. It might not affect immediately. But surely, the fruits of solidarity bear. My resettled community is the example. The many asylum seekers at UCC and other universities of sanctuary are the examples.

I hope the Irish politicians have courage to open up doors for asylum seekers for a dignify life. I hope the world’s leaders have courage to end endless displacement and on slaughter of millions of lives. I hope the world finally stands on its promise of “Never Again” and put an end to the decades of sufferings of my people. I hope I can continue to nurture my dream in my new home, Ireland.

Thank you.

Go raibh maith agat!


Nurturing Dreams | Aula Maxima | University College Cork | January 24, 2019

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Haikal Mansor A Journey Through Darkness
Welcome to my blog - a Rohingya journey through darkness. Feel free to write to me for inquiry or follow me on my social media.