Gratitude as door opens to a new life

Freedom: Members of the Kasim family are grateful that the Australian government gave them a new life and future in Australia. Picture: Jeff de Pasquale

Freedom: Members of the Kasim family are grateful that the Australian government gave them a new life and future in Australia. Picture: Jeff de Pasquale

DEATH, torture, slave labour and deprivation are the first things that come to mind when Liverpool's Sayed Kasim remembers growing up in Burma.

The 41 year old, a member of the Rohingya Muslim minority, says he was not allowed to receive any public or secondary school education.

Fortunately, he was educated in a religious school in his village.

"My membership in the Democratic Party for Human Rights also put me at odds with the Burmese government," he said.

"After applying to the authorities to open a school in my village, I was seized and then tortured by the Burmese military."

Mr Kasim was just 14 years old when he was taken by the military and forced into slavery work.

"After six days, I got a fever and told the military I wanted to go home but they said 'no' and tortured me," he said.

"On the seventh day, I escaped and went back to my village."

But Mr Kasim said the Burmese military found him and placed him in a camp for another seven days before putting him on a boat.

"I thought they were going to kill me so I asked to go to the toilet and that's when I asked the chef at the back of the boat to cut the rope which tied my hands together," he said.

"He did and that's when I jumped into the water, swam to a jungle and escaped."

Mr Kasim then travelled to Thailand by boat and stayed there for more than a week before walking through a jungle which led him into Malaysia.

It was 1992 and he registered as a refugee with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"I met my wife and married in Malaysia in 2003, and we had four children," he said.

"There, I opened a school for the children of Rohingya refugees in the city of Klang in 2005.

"But in 2009 I was targeted by a large religious party in Malaysia who resented the presence of Rohingya refugees, and who threatened my life on many occasions."

With little money, he left his wife and children and travelled to Australia by boat.

On January 4, 2010, he arrived at Christmas Island and was given refugee status after spending six months in detention.

He was then placed at Villawood Detention Centre and stayed there for nearly two years before being released.

"Words cannot express my happiness, given that I was not truly free in the past, neither in Burma nor in Malaysia," he said. "I would like to thank the Australian government and my supporters for giving me a new life and a new future for my family."

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