Sarjida’s Story: Fleeing by boat to Malaysia
KUALA LUMPUR – In June 2012, violence shook Maungdaw, one of three districts in Rakhine state in western Myanmar where Rohingya Muslims make up the majority of the population. Rising community tensions boiled over on June 9, and spread to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe. Rival mobs of Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists torched each other’s homes.
After another bout of violence in October, many Rohingya – whom Myanmar does not recognise as citizens despite the fact they have lived in the country for generations – fled on flimsy wooden fishing boats. They headed for Malaysia, where tens of thousands of Rohingya have found refuge.
Sarjida, a 19-year-old from Maungdaw, spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation about her experience from her new home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a dingy three-storey house she shares with other Rohingya families.
“I’m from a village called A Le Than Chaung in south Maungdaw. My parents are farmers. I’m the fifth child and the first daughter.
“We lost our home in the June violence. We built a shelter with whatever we could find because we didn’t get much help to rebuild our house. We didn’t even have blankets when the monsoon came.
“There was a troop of Nasaka [the border administration force – made up of the police, the military and customs and immigration officers – that once controlled every aspect of Rohingya life] near our village. After the violence, there were more soldiers in the area, the restrictions [on movement and jobs] worsened and the Nasaka started taking the men away. Some returned. Some didn’t.
“Parents started worrying what they would do to the girls so my family told me to leave. I’d never even been to the next village. This was the first time I’d left home and travelled alone.
“I was scared because I’d heard the boat trips were dangerous, but if I’d stayed in Myanmar, the situation could have got worse.
“I left Myanmar in April under the cover of darkness. The journey took 25 days. I travelled to a village about six miles away to get on a small boat. There were about 50 women and girls and about 20 men. We drifted for about five days because the boat didn’t start its engine. I think it was because our boat owner didn’t get a signal from the bigger boat.
“We were very tightly jammed in and had to squat on the boat for the whole trip. I had taken two pairs of clothes, lots of water and a little food, especially sour snacks to take when I felt dizzy on the boat.
“After five days, we met up with the bigger boat and were transferred onto it. There were more than 100 people on this boat. We were given a meal and a glass of water a day.
“The food wasn’t enough. People were getting very weak because of the lack of food and water. Some were becoming ill. I was seasick myself. I got dizzy and threw up numerous times. But nobody could help because everyone was unwell.
“There were strong winds too and I was really scared when the boat started rocking from side-to-side. But nobody died.
“We spent eight days on the big boat before reaching Thailand. I don’t know where exactly. We were put in a compound near the sea. I could see the hills too.
“The traffickers separated the men from the women. We (women) were put in a tarpaulin tent. It had a roof but no sides. They placed a sheet on the ground for us to sit on. I was treated well. The traffickers spoke Burmese so I think they must have been from Myanmar.
“We spent about five days there. We weren’t told why we were there. Then we had to walk towards a mountain and sleep overnight in the open. The next morning cars transported us to Malaysia. We arrived in Penang very early in the morning after another full day and night of travelling.
“A fellow villager I’d known for a while, who left for Malaysia about four years ago, picked me up and brought me to Kuala Lumpur. He also paid the brokers 300,000 kyats (over $300) for me to get to Thailand and 5,500 ringgit (about $1,750) to reach Malaysia. We got married a week after I arrived here.
“I feel better now that I’ve arrived here but I miss my family.
“If Myanmar is peaceful then I think I’d like to go back there because my childhood was peaceful.”
By Thomson Reuters Foundation Correspondent
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Fri, 19 Jul 2013 05:15 GMT