Ethnic rejection and lack of education or sanitation: Life for the Rohingya community is one of suffering

Many Rohingya families have been in Myanmar for centuries Credit: ITV News

Life for the Rohingya community is one of rejection and suffering.

They are stateless Muslims, stigmatised and segregated in Buddhist Myanamar. They’re regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, yet many Rohingya families have been in Myanmar for centuries.

Full report by Lucy Watson:

More than a million live confined to Rakhine State, in the north west of the country, while 140,000 live in displacement camps after their homes were destroyed during a period of ethnic violence in 2012.

These people have little access to education, medicines, jobs or sanitation. This is what is driving them abroad, and into the hands of traffickers.

We met 27-year-old Arfara and her five daughters, who tried to flee their camp in Sittwe to get to Malaysia on a ship. Around 400 others were onboard. Their ordeal lasted 50 days, until they were rescued two weeks ago.

Life has been so hard since my husband died in the violence of 2012. I decided to go to Malaysia to escape this life and make a better one.

Arfara

Her 11-year-old daughter Umahair was also open about her experience.

We got a handful of rice a day, with a chilli. We had to sit in the same place for the whole trip. If you moved you got beaten.

Umahair

They were eventually rescued because the smugglers couldn’t get them to Malaysian shores and move them on - meaning their village, back in Myanmar, had to pay a ransom of $200 per person so they could return.

But another woman living near them, Zurabaneon, is still waiting for news of her husband who left on a boat around six weeks ago. She has two young sons. Their family hasn’t had any news of him.

She is quiet and subdued but told me:

I am so worried about him. I think he can only be dead. He only left to try and make a better living for us. It is so hard here.

Zurbaneon
Lack of access to education, medicines, jobs or sanitation drives them into the hands of traffickers Credit: ITV News

Her sister Sajadar was far more vocal.

I am terrified for my sister and the future of her children. It is so difficult for them here, they have little to survive on.

Sajadar

And these women and their children are living amongst the traffickers. One of them agreed to speak to ITV News.

There are lots of us brokers here, we’re everywhere. Some of them work to gather up those who want to leave, others take out boatloads of people to the ships at sea. We earn 150 pounds a person when we take them out there.

Human trafficker
Myanmar refugees of Rohingya ethnic minority Credit: Reuters

This minority, which has little access to education, medicines, water or sanitation, is being capitalised upon. The government still refuses to class them as Burmese.

Rakhine State’s Executive Secretary U Tin Aung Swe described the Rohingyas to me:

They are foreigners. They are foreigners. I’m afraid. I worry that some people don’t follow our programme and they are refusing to apply for citizenship. It’s their problem.

U Tin Aung Swe

Myanmar has now agreed to attend the meeting of ASEAN countries (Association of South East Asian Nations) on Friday in Thailand. Previously, they said they wouldn't.

Will they talk about the Rohingyas’ plight and the “boat people” issue. U Tin Aung Swe assured me they would.

Because while Rohingyas’ movements are monitored and their basic human rights denied, their desire for real freedom via the sea won’t fade.