The phone rang, and Nasir Bin Zakaria jolted awake. It was almost 2 a.m. on Tuesday, and the 40-year-old community leader had gone to bed only an hour earlier. The streets outside his apartment in downtown Chicago were quiet. “Hello?”
The men on the line sounded panicked. They had never met Bin Zakaria. They lived on the other side of the world, in a small village in western Burma, where, in the mid-afternoon heat, they were preparing to run for their lives.
Bin Zakari’s wife lay asleep in bed as he stood in the hallway and spoke with the men, who, like him and his wife, were Rohingya Muslim. Bin Zakaria leads a Rohingya cultural center in Chicago, home to one of the largest Rohingya populations in the United States. The men had found his number on WhatsApp. They didn’t know him, but it didn’t matter: Burmese soldiers were coming to hurt them, they said, and they needed help.