For young Rohingya brides, marriage is a dangerous, deadly crossing

BANGKOK – Haresa counted the days by the moon, waxing and wandering over the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The days on her trailer, penetrated into such tight space that she couldn’t even pull her legs, flowing week after week, month after week.

“People were fishing around as they struggled,” Haresa, 18, said of the other refugees on the boat. “Then they stopped moving.”

Survivors said dozens of bodies were thrown overboard, some were beaten and some starved, survivors. Ms. Haresa’s aunt died, followed by her brother.

Six full moons after boarding a fishing boat in Bangladesh, in the hope that human traffickers would take her to Malaysia, Ms. Haresa, who goes by one name, and about 300 other Rohingya refugees found sanctuary in Indonesia last month. Her 21-year-old sister died two days after the boat capsized.

Scattered from their homes in Myanmar and into refugee settlements in neighboring Bangladesh, thousands of Rohingya have taken dangerous boats to Malaysia, where many from the persecuted minority group work as undocumented workers. Hundreds have died along the way.

Like Ms. Haresa, most of those now on the trip are girls and young women from a refugee camp in Bangladesh whose parents have promised to marry Rohingya men in Malaysia. Two-thirds of those who landed in Indonesia last month with Ms. Haresa were women.

“My parents are getting older and my brothers are with their own family.” “How long will my parents tolerate me?”

By matching a cousin in Malaysia who works as a mower, Mrs. Bibi’s parents found a fianc for her. She asked for details about the man, but nothing was provided except his name.

After surviving more than six months at sea in a failed attempt to reach her, Mrs. BB spoke to a countrywoman from Indonesia with her fianc. The phone call lasted two minutes. “He looked young,” he said. The extent to which he knows about it.

Ms BB initially told UNHCR staff that she was 15, but that her age had since been revised to 18. Child marriage is common in Rohingya, especially in rural areas.

Largely stateless, the Muslim minority has been subject to apartheid-like existence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Over the past few years, horrific waves have pushed the Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh, where human traffickers, including their families, fall prey to young and desperate prey in refugee camps.

The influx has increased since 2017, when more than three-quarters of a million Rohingya have fled ethnic cleansing campaigns in Myanmar. Coronavirus epidemics With tight borders, travel by sea has become more difficult. For months this year, boats full of hundreds of Rohingya migrants were stranded at sea, unable to find safe haven. Officials from Thailand and Malaysia repeatedly pressured him.

The Aceh fishermen at the top of Sumatra on Suchitra Island are among the few who have welcomed the Rohingya. A scatterbrained trawler with about 100 refugees in June landed from a large boat in September.

The question is how Southeast Asia, as a region, responds to its humanitarian crisis, said Indrika Ratwat, director of Asia and the Pacific for the UN refugee agency.

Struggling with its vulnerable population amid the epidemic, the Bangladeshi government has threatened to evacuate thousands of Rohingya from camps on the cyclone-hit island in the Bay of Bengal. About 300 Rohingya were evacuated by the Bangladeshi navy this summer – many of whom were forced to seek refuge there – until Silty Island was deserted, months after their attempt to move to Malaysia ended.

Earlier this month, several Rohingya were killed in clashes between different gangs in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp, considered the world’s largest refugee settlement. Some women say they use public toilets as little as possible for fear of sexual violence.

Shamsun Nahar, 17, said he was reluctant to leave the camp despite hearing about how dangerous the crossing could be. Her father, a cleric, found her a match, a man from the same village in Rakhine, working as a carpenter in Malaysia.

“I talked to him on a video call, and I like him from every angle,” Ms. Nahar said about their brief marriage over the phone. “It wasn’t too big, it wasn’t too small. It felt great. “

Her fiance had to pay Rs 4,500 for her passage, Mr Nahar said. The space she had occupied on the boat for months was close to the engine, so noisy that she couldn’t hear anyone else’s voices.

He said both Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists were beaten with plastic pipes by smugglers and brokers. The food was served on a sheet of smelly plastic with the remnants of the previous week, each meal smelling with an odor.

“I am safe now, but I am separated from my family and my fianc,” Ms Nahar said after arriving in Indonesia last month. “What will happen next?” I don’t know. “

Although previous waves of Rohingya, who landed in Indonesia, were mostly going to Malaysia, only a few people from this year’s crossing have been able to reunite with their families or future husbands.

When Naimot Shah married his wife Majuma Bibi, she was 14 years old and she was 12 years old. Touched the roofs of their childhood homes in Rakhine, he said, as close as possible.

In 2014, Mr Shah paid human traffickers on a 28-day journey to take him from Rakhine to Malaysia, which almost killed him. She was six months old when her daughter was released. Three years later, his family fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar army’s campaign of killing, raping and forcibly displacing the Rohingya.

From a refugee camp in Bangladesh, Mr. Shah’s wife requested him to pay her and his daughter to join Malaysia. Knowing how dangerous the trip was, he refused.

But his wife, whom Mr. Shah called “very clever,” quietly saved the money he sent her from her job as a construction worker. In late March, she and her daughter climbed the boundary in a fishing trawler, hoping to find where her husband lived.

Mr Shah said, “They went without my permission so I was very annoyed.”

As news of Mass’s drowning reached him, he assumed his family had died at sea. But on June 24, Mr. Shah heard that a boat had arrived in Indonesia. He identified his wife and daughter by scanning the crowd on video.

“I have never felt so happy because I knew they were alive,” said Mr Shah.

He said other Rohingyas in Malaysia had taken second or third wives. But it won’t. Instead, he went to Indonesia to reunite with his wife and daughter. Mr. Shah said, ‘I will stick to one wife.’ “She made all these journeys, faced this difficult time for me.”