Shukur Manaf is a 23 year old Rohingya refugee who's family is originally from Myanmar but who fled to Malaysia before Shukur was born.

Show Notes

My guest today is Shukur Manaf. He is a 23 year old Rohingya refugee who's family is originally from Myanmar but who fled to Malaysia before Shukur was born. He is an incredible human being. He inspired me from the moment we sat down to talk. He is overwhelmingly optimistic, is so happy to be living in the US, and is thrilled to be able to help others. 

The history of Myanmar is very complex but is important to understand because of the current Rohingya refugee crisis .The following is an abbreviated version. 

The Rohingya are a Muslim, minority population of Myanmar that have historically lived in the western province of Rankine State, formerly known as Arakan.The first Muslims settled in that area alongside the Buddhists in the early 1400s. They were advisors and courtiers in the court of the Buddist king. But in the mid 1700s, an uprising in the south of Burma conquered that region causing many of the Muslim minority to flee for the lives to Bengal because Buddhist invaders were executing every Muslim man they saw.

Burma was the name that the British colonizers gave to the region in the mid-18th century. There were many wars between the British and the Burmese. Territories were seized and recaptured by both sides. Great Britain owned India, neighboring Bengal and also desired Burma. The British encouraged many Rohingyas living in Bengal to settle in Rakhine State. The Buddhist majority did not like the many Muslim immigrants flooding their country. This was the beginning of ethnic and religious tension in Burma. 

The country gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. After several military coups in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, one General decided to rename the country Myanmar because it was more inclusive of minority ethnicities and more importantly was not the name given by their colonizers. There was much unrest in Rakhine state between WWII and the 1960s. During that time, the Rohingyas advocated for a separate country within Rakhine state. When the military eventually took power, they cracked down on the Rohingyas and denied them citizenship and defined them as stateless Bengalis. Since then, many have fled to neighboring Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia where they continue to live in limbo. They have become a stateless people.

Refugee resettlement is a very complex and grueling 18-24 month security screening process before even arriving in the United States. Once they arrive, the refugees are matched with a local resettlement agency that helps them navigate their first few months. Admittedly, the focus of the U.S is to encourage the refugee to enter the workforce as soon as possible. 

Shukur laments his experience of resettlement and wishes that more time was dedicated to education so he could gain better employment. Studies in the European Union have shown that refugees who speak the local language at beginner level or less have an employment rate of only 27%, this more than doubles to 59% for those with intermediate language skills. 


What is Gramercy?

Stories from those who live and work on the margins of society.