Across the road from Springvale train station, about 20 kilometres southeast of Melbourne’s CBD, there is an unmarked café—the Rohingya Bazaar.
Along one wall, shelves are stacked with produce from Myanmar—biscuits, rice, noodles, spices and sauces. There are few customers but they stay a long time, sitting on the orange plastic chairs and talking at the long row of tables in the middle of the shop, or charging their phones at the tables by the other wall. People order coffee with condensed milk, or a plate of rice with curries from the bain-marie. Young men step outside for a cigarette and then return. One man has the remote control for the TV and chooses a string of Taylor Swift video clips from YouTube.
Shawfikul Islam comes in, wearing double denim and a backwards baseball cap. He arranged to meet here, but he’s late because he has been at the police station, helping interpret for two men who were in a dispute. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar—although the country’s government refuses to use the word ‘Rohingya’, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Shawfikul explains that there are 500 Rohingya in Melbourne—mostly living in Springvale—and about 3000 in Australia. Mainly, they are young men like him. “For Rohingya boys growing up, the dream is to escape,” he explains. “We’re the most unwanted community in the world.”
Shawfikul begins to introduce people in the community, starting with Kabir, the owner of the café.
This is an illustrated feature for SBS, with short profiles of eight people from the Rohingya community in Melbourne.