KENT, Wash. — Two brothers are now calling western Washington home after being separated for 10 years and enduring hardships most people could never imagine.
Mohamad Imran, 21, and 15-year-old Ikram Imran were pushed out of their home country of Myanmar as part of the Rohingya genocide. The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority in Myanmar.
For the past six years, the Rohingya people have been targeted by the Burmese military. According to the United Nations, thousands of Rohingya people have been killed and more than 700,000 have been forced to flee the country since 2017.
Although Mohamad and Ikram were able to leave Myanmar, they faced difficult and life-threatening challenges when they left.
“I was in Malaysia detention almost three years,” said Ikram, who is still learning English after moving in with his foster family in Kent.
The Malaysian government released Ikram last November. He thought he would never get out of the detention center, and at one point, thought he might be killed.
“There is so bad situation,” said Ikram. “They cannot sleep, cannot go anywhere.”
Lawmakers said Ikram is the first child to ever be released from that detention camp. And if it wasn’t for his older brother Mohamad, he would still be there.
“I have been working with this like since 2019 because Malaysian government is like very strong,” said Mohamad.
Their biological parents are still living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Their parents sent Ikram and Mohamad separately, and at different times, to Malaysia where they believed their sons could find safety and get an education. They were wrong.
“They tell me my family we will send your son in Malaysia in seven days, it was a lie,” said Mohamad. “Instead, it took a five months on the boat.”
Mohamad describes this as the darkest time of his life.
“After like a few weeks, people are dying in the boat, and they are thrown in the water. And I thought I would be the next one,” said Mohamad.
When he got to land, he was arrested and spent a year in a Malaysian detention camp.
“They give a little bit of food and they beat the children,” said Mohamad. “I still like go to see doctor, they beat one of my toes in my leg.”
After being rescued by the UN, he advocated for himself and applied to come to the United States. He was placed with a foster family on Mercer Island where he has been since 2016. He moved here at 15 years old. He is currently in his second year at Bellevue College as a business student and last year he became an American citizen.
“I'm really thankful for the government. I feel like I'm a really proud Rohingya American,” said Mohamad.
In 2019, Mohamad found out his brother was missing after also taking a dangerous ship voyage to Malaysia. After investigating and reaching out to people overseas, he discovered that Ikram was in a detention camp in Malaysia. Mohamad worked tirelessly for three years reaching out to different organizations and lawmakers to get his brother released. He eventually heard that Congressmember Suzan DelBene would be in Malaysia as part of a trip with then house speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“When folks heard I was going to be in Malaysia, they asked that I raise this case to government officials, the folks in the embassy, and so I did,” said DelBene.
During that trip this past August, Delbene spoke directly to the Malaysian government about Ikram.
“The real kind of amazing thing about this case is his brother Muhammad and his advocacy,” said DelBene.
Three months after DelBene’s meeting with he Malaysian government, Ikram was released. He made his way to Washington state where he has been living since December with his foster family.
“My foster family loves me,” said Ikram.
Ikram and Mohamad now both have big plans for the future.
“I want to help the Rohingya Muslim, and then I went to be a doctor,” said Ikram.
Mohamad said he has also been advocating for other families to come to the Unites States, although he said it is very hard.
“I promised myself I will be not giving up for my family because it's my blood,” said Mohamed. “I'll do whatever I can to like to save my family.”
Not only does he want to save his family, he is trying to spread awareness of the Rohingya genocide and the Malaysian detention camps in order to save more Rohingya people.
“I think it's time for us, as a human being. to bring awareness for the people who are dying to be seen,” said Mohamad of the Rohingya people.
Mohamad hopes to speak with President Joe Biden eventually in order to share his story and encourage Biden to do more to stop the Rohingya crisis. Mohamad has also written a book about his experience, to educate people further on what is happening in his home country and for more people to hopefully be saved.
Mohamad said some of the other lawmakers who were actively helping him to bring Ikram to Washington were Congressmember Adam Smith, Senator Maria Cantwell, and former Governor and United States Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.