Rohingya: Collective Voices

translated by Mayyu Ali & James Byrne
Rohingya children in a school in a refugee camp
Rohingya students reading The Blossom in the Community Rebuilding Centre education facility in Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp, ​​​​October 2018. Photo courtesy of Mayyu Ali.

Translator’s note: The following excerpts appear in the longer “Collective Voices” poem discussed in the interview with Mayyu Ali. Some of the “Voices” are just starting to write poetry after having been denied education for years. – James Byrne


Once I was born, I survived in two worlds:
One where I have lived for generations, 
Another where I am merely a refugee.
In both places, I am displaced.
               Shanas, 18

Nothing left, burnt buildings, villages.
The sky is smoke,
The earth smells of burning.
The Arakan, isolated, a brand-new inferno.
               AR, 27

For days and nights we ran, stumbled and hid—
Exhausted, emaciated, hungry.
               Dil, 22

Old men rely on bamboo sticks,
Women cling to life, babies on their breasts.
Grandmother in a plastic basin hung by bamboo stick
The shadow of hell on earth.
               Mohammed, 24

Genocide’s blade doesn’t choose us by our age.
He is strong, young, male and educated.
He is abducted, executed, sent to the grave.
               Nur, 23

I am a young Rohingya.
I should have the same rights as you do.
In Myanmar, I cannot go to school.
In Bangladesh, there’s no curriculum I can learn.
               Yasmin, 21

She was gang-raped, set alight, and left for dead.
She carries a killer’s scar inside her body.
               Omal, 18

Over a decade, many times I have fled and returned.
This is the fourth time I have left Bangladesh—
A life spent on survival.
Am I fortunate enough to flee again?
               Mohammed, 26

Perpetrators lie in various ways
While the world still debates definitions of genocide.
You can see the fire but not how we are burnt,
You can read of killings but not how our throats were
               Rahmat, 27

A bullet in the chest bigger than a heart.
A body drops into the water
And the world just watches on.
               Rusminara, 19

Mayyu Ali is a young Rohingya poet, writer, and humanitarian activist who runs the Youth Empowerment Centre in the refugee camp at Cox’s Bazaar. His articles have also featured in Al Jazeera, Dhaka Tribune, and on CNN. Recently he published The Blossom, including some of his early poems, and distributed them around the camps. His poems have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation (special feature on Rohingya poetry) as well as the Best English and Light of English magazines in Myanmar.

Photo © Carolyn Forché

James Byrne is a poet, editor, and translator. His most recent poetry collection is Everything Broken Up Dances (Tupelo, 2015).