Rohingya refugee: We were hunted down by mob in Myanmar
- Publish date:23/05/2016
- Section:Muslim Minorities
For decades, Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Myanmar, a Buddhist majority country where they are forced to live in apartheid-like conditions and denied access to jobs, education and healthcare.
But in recent years the exodus of refugees has surged. Since 2012, more than 100,000 people have braved perilous boat journeys in search of better lives in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.
Abu Siddiq, a Rohingya refugee living in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera that he was forced to flee his home in Myanmar after ethnic Buddhists launched a brutal campaign against his family and community.
"We were beaten, harassed and our houses burned down," Siddiq told Al Jazeera. "We dug trenches, and put dry grass in them to sleep. We soon had no food to eat and were often hunted down."
"With 6,000 people living in a field, we drank water from drains and puddles, there was no food or medical care," he added.
"Four of my children aged, two, three, five and 10 were brutally killed - hacked to death. A Rohingya woman was killed during Ramadan [the Muslim holy month of fasting] which started a riot."
Not regarded as one of the country's 135 official ethnic groups, Myanmar government views the Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants despite the fact that many of them have been living there for more than a century.
The government has denied them citizenship, which renders them stateless.
Fearing for the safety of his remaining family members, Siddiq joined more than 120 others and crammed on to a boat headed for Malaysia, where the Rohingya eke out a living on the margins of society.
Many first cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh, from where they try to get to countries with better treatment - but most are turned away by authorities who shirk responsibility, claiming that they don't have the resources to look after them.
"After being turned away ... we quickly finished our food and water, arriving in Thailand's waters a week later. We were stopped by human traffickers who were waiting in speedboats, they had guns - we were loaded up on speed boats and beaten. We were taken ashore and locked in cages - they wanted ransom money. At night they would take young women and rape them."
After contacting a relative for help, Siddiq says his captors were payed $3,000 and he was released in Malaysia.
Siddiq, like most Rohingya in Malaysia has found a poorly paid job - working as a drain cleaner in Kuala Lumpur - but lives in constant fear of deportation as he doesn't have legal status in the country.
Malaysia, like many of its neighbors, hasn't signed the United Nations Convention on Refugees which means there are no laws to protect refugees.
The UNHCR says there are 53,700 Rohingya registered in Malaysia, but the numbers are believed to be much higher.
In October, Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit uncovered "strong evidence" of a genocide coordinated by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya.
The evidence revealed that the government was triggering communal violence for political gain by inciting anti-Muslim riots, using hate speech to stoke fear among the Myanmarese about Muslims, and offering money to hardline Buddhist groups who threw their support behind the leadership.
A Rohingya Muslim man carries containers of water in front of boats near a jetty at a refugee camp outside Sittwe, Myanmar May 21, 2015. [Reuters]