‘I Had No Options’: The Rohingya Man Who Smuggled Himself

People and Buddhist monks protest while Malaysian NGO's aid ship carrying food and emergency supplies for Rohingya Muslims arrives at the port in Yangon

People and Buddhist monks protest while Malaysian NGO’s aid ship carrying food and emergency supplies for Rohingya Muslims arrives at the port in Yangon, Myanmar February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun – RC1EEC18F810

Source: The Atlantic


The reporting for this article was supported by The Masthead, The Atlantic’s membership program. Learn more.

YANGON, Myanmar—By Kamal’s own admission, his family used to be “very rich.” His father owned a successful trading business, which sent fish and thanaka—a fragrant cosmetic paste made from tree bark—to be sold in neighboring Bangladesh. Their home in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar (also known as Burma), was a two-story structure in a busy quarter, and Kamal, a Muslim, taught English at a local church.

But when I met him, he was sitting idly near his new house in a village filled with rickety homes, where the roads and footpaths had been turned to slippery mud by the heavy monsoon. His family were forced to flee Sittwe as roving mobs of Buddhists destroyed the homes of their Muslim neighbors. Violence had convulsed Rakhine State, where the Buddhist majority clashed with the Rohingya community, a minority Muslim group that has been the object of discrimination for decades here in Myanmar. The relative wealth of Kamal’s family was no factor—the violence had, in a way, served as a great equalizer, turning the Rohingya into a monolithic community, detested more than ever before.

Kamal and his family were among about 140,000 mainly Rohingya Muslims who were displaced in the bloodshed of 2012, three years before he and I first talked. Most were rounded up into chaotic displacement camps in Rakhine, where most still reside, while others were held in government-controlled ghettos, barred from leaving. Then in 2017, more than 700,000 others headed to neighboring Bangladesh, searching for safety from a country where they had lived their entire lives but which refused to recognize them. United Nations investigators have called the most recent exodus the result of genocidal military actions.

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