Impossible choices

Refugee crisis worsens as scores flee Myanmar for Malaysia

Jubair, 13, who was left behind when his mother and siblings fled Myanmar for Malaysia, in the Rohingya village of Thayet Oak, Myanmar. Tomas Munita/The New York Times

Since 2012, many Rohingya boat migrants have left Myanmar for Malaysia, since they are seen as intruders for being Muslim in a predominantly Buddhist country. A crisis ensued after smugglers abandoned those who fled when no other country would take them in, and thus Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to temporarily accept the migrants. For one woman, the upheaval has wrought dramatic consequences. Hasinah Izhar, 33, fled several months after her husband had left, taking with her three of her four children. Izhar left her oldest son behind because she was afraid she would be unable to pay the smugglers for his escape. The Rohingya women are most vulnerable, especially those whose husbands have already fled, and when violence escalated again last year, Izhar felt she had little choice but to follow her husband to Malaysia. The journey out of Myanmar is a treacherous one, and the smugglers demand a ransom and turn violent if they are not paid. Izhar had hoped her husband would have the money to pay the smugglers, but he didn’t. After several weeks of negotiation and the mistreatment of her family, the amount was lowered and Izhar borrowed the $1,700 dollars from friends and family. Unfortunately, despite Malaysia being a Muslim country, the refugees often do not end up with the life they had hoped for. Only some of the migrants can become registered refugees, the few schools run by charities are crowded, and the men generally have to rely on informal jobs as day laborers. The Izhar family shares a two-story house with 13 other migrants. They are still waiting to achieve official status as refugees.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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