The Rohingya, a Southeast Asian people, have been fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for some time, seeking asylum in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Australia. Now a new and dark side of their plight has emerged: Rohingya women refugees have become a desirable commodity for bachelors seeking wives in Malaysia. And commodity is not a loose term by any means. In the case of one 22-year-old woman, Shahidah Yunus, her family could not afford the $1,260 the smugglers demanded to complete her voyage out of Myanmar. So she found herself held by the smugglers in the sweltering jungles of southern Thailand for two months, until they offered her a deal. A stranger would pay for her freedom if she agreed to marry him in return, they said. Shahidah called her parents, and they agreed it was for the best, an all-too-common outcome among many faced with similar quandaries. A shortage of eligible Rohingya men in Myanmar has raised the costs of dowries that Rohingya families have to pay to marry their daughters to Rohingya men in Myanmar — and a shortage of eligible Rohingya women in Malaysia has made men there more willing to pay for a bride and forgo a dowry. This year and last year, says Chris Lewa, an advocate for Rohingya people, “One can safely say that at least 5,000 young women embarked on boats and would have entered in a marriage before arriving in Malaysia.” It’s hardly a romantic option, but for most it’s better than the alternative.
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