He escaped almost certain death in his native Myanmar and was forced to leave his family behind as he made the dangerous trek across the ocean to safety in Australia. Now, SBS will tell Yunus' story in a world-first, live documentary for Instagram.
In rough seas, crammed into a rickety fishing boat with 80 other refugees, Yunus was convinced he was going to die – but the Rohingya refugee who now calls Australia home knew an even worse fate awaited him had he stayed in his native Myanmar.
Only weeks before, the then 21-year-old had been forced to flee his home and family in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar ahead of government forces, who had already inflicted decades of persecution and bloody crackdowns.
“The military came, the police came and they were shooting people, everyone,” he told SBS News from his new home in Victoria.
“My mum said to me “you must go, you must leave here.”
Yunus made the challenging trek to first Bangladesh, then Thailand and Malaysia before making the dangerous voyage towards Australia, convinced he was going to die at sea or at the hands of an unsympathetic foreign navy.
“I thought “I’m going to die, I’m going to die on this boat”,” the 27-year-old said.
“It was windy; water was coming into the boat. Oh my God, I thought that was it, I was going to die.”
SBS will launch a world-first, live documentary for Instagram focusing on Yunus’ flight from persecution, his new life in Australia and his family who remain in the Thangkali Refugee Camp, in Bangladesh, on Monday.
Created by the Walkley Award-winning SBS Online Documentaries team, audiences can follow Yunus through a series of Instagram posts and videos as he navigates his new home while supporting family overseas as part of the She Called Me Red series.
The documentary’s launch coincides with SBS Radio’s newly launched Rohingya language services and aims to show how technology and social media plays a part in connecting those fleeing their countries try and stay connected with their loved ones and homelands.
Social followers will be able to view Yunus’ regular updates from Victoria, while his teen brother and mother share content, showing their daily life in the Thangkali Refugee Camp.
“I wanted to create a story to remember what happened in my family and for the Rohingya people suffering in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand,” Yunus said of the documentary.
“Sometimes I am so sad to think there is no future for my family, but at least they are safe. I am the lucky one - I came here.”
She Called Me Red takes its name from Yunus’ childhood in Myanmar, where before being forced to flee, his grandmother dubbed him “Lalaya” – or red – because of his pale skin that easily burnt in the sun.
The United Nations has described Myanmar’s offensive in Rakhine as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” directed at the Rohingya people.
The persecution has prompted the exodus of an estimated 700,000 people, desperate to flee the destruction of their homes, sexual violence and execution since August 2017.
Those refugees face uncertain and risky trips at the mercy of people smugglers in leaky boats or dangerous overland journeys. While Bangladesh estimates it is housing more than one million Rohingya, like Yunus' mother and brother, in sprawling, ramshackle refugee camps.
“By car, by walk, by boat… later I called and said “mum, I’m in the jungle – but I don’t know where,” Yunus said of his flight from government forces.
“The smuggler told me it would be three or four days to get to Thailand. It took 12 days.”
Australia-wide the Rohingya community is very small, only numbering about 3000 people – most of who live in Melbourne.
Yunus, who works at a recycling plant in Mornington, Victoria, and is prominent in that community, even, overseeing a youth soccer team.
Due to visa conditions, he’s trying to relocate to regional Victoria, where he will have to look for new work and housing – but he’s optimistic about the future.
“I love it here,” he said.