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 health care.
Four of my children, aged two, three, five and 10 were brutally killed—hacked to death. A Rohingya woman was killed during Ramadhan [the Muslim holy month of fasting], which started a riot.
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 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.
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 other remaining family members, Siddiq joined over 120 others and crammed onto 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 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 speedboats 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 paid $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 UN 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.
©2016 AL JAZEERA (DOHA, QATAR)/DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.