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Rohingya Muslims Tempt Fate on Sea

A Muslim Rohingya woman
feeding her child at their tent at the Dabang Internally Displaced Persons

OnIslam &
February 12, 2013

CAIRO – Surviving on
handouts and unable to look for work outside refugee camps, Rohingya Muslims
are forced by Burmese authorities to take hazardous journeys by sea to flee
persecution in their country.

“There are no
opportunities here for us, no hope,” Abu Kassim, a Rohingya Muslim, told The
Washington Post on Tuesday, February 12.

“We are prisoners.”

Like thousands of
fellow Rohingya, Abu Kassim lives in a refugee camp in western Burma after
fleeing his home in Rakhine after attacks by Buddhist mobs in June.

The 26-year-old Muslim
was neither able to return to his home, fearing attacks by Buddhists, nor work
outside the camp.

This has left him with
no other option but to try to cross the Bay of Bengal by sea to look for a
better life outside Burma.

Estimates show that
several thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee Burma on flimsy wooden boats every

Travelers pay more than
$100 for a space on rickety, 40-foot-long boats.

The United Nations says
of the 13,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled Burma and Bangladesh last year, at
least 485 were known to have drowned.

Worse still, Rohingyas
who succeed in fleeing Burma fall prey to human traffickers.

“Of course we are very
concerned about the risks, but the people are insisting they want to go,” said
Shamshir, 42, a boat builder.

Described by the UN as
one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims have been
facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland Burma.

They have been denied
citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are
treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.

The Burmese government
as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term
“Rohingya”, referring to them as “Bengalis”.

Miserable Life

Despite the risks, many
Rohingya Muslims are adamant to flee Burma for a better life.
“Of course we are
afraid of the traffickers,” Abu Kassim said.

“But the suffering may
still be less than this life, so we must try,” he said.
“God willing, we will
reach Malaysia.”

San Shwe Maung blames
the Burmese government for pushing the Rohingyas to flee the country.

“The government wants
to make us miserable, to push us out,” the 30-year-old unemployed teacher said.
He complained that many
Rohingya-owned businesses have been appropriated by the state.

“We are like the second

Rights activists also
blame the systematic state persecution for the growing numbers of Rohingya
Muslims fleeing the country despite the risks.

“This appears to be the
intended outcome of a dire situation in which Rohingyas have been consolidated,
denied free movement and a means of earning a living,” Phil Robertson, deputy irector
of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told The Washington Post.

Rights groups have
accused the Burmese security forces of killing, raping and arresting Rohingyas
following the sectarian violence last year.