CAIRO - Surviving on handouts and unable to look for work outside refugee camps, Rohingya Muslims are forced by Burmese authorities to take hazardous journeys by sea to flee persecution in their country.
There are no opportunities here for us, no hope, Abu Kassim, a Rohingya Muslim, told The Washington Post on Tuesday, February 12.
We are prisoners.
Like thousands of fellow Rohingya, Abu Kassim lives in a refugee camp in western Burma after fleeing his home in Rakhine after attacks by Buddhist mobs in June.
The 26-year-old Muslim was neither able to return to his home, fearing attacks by Buddhists, nor work outside the camp.
This has left him with no other option but to try to cross the Bay of Bengal by sea to look for a better life outside Burma.
Estimates show that several thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee Burma on flimsy wooden boats every month.
Travelers pay more than $100 for a space on rickety, 40-foot-long boats.
The United Nations says of the 13,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled Burma and Bangladesh last year, at least 485 were known to have drowned.
Worse still, Rohingyas who succeed in fleeing Burma fall prey to human traffickers.
Of course we are very concerned about the risks, but the people are insisting they want to go, said Shamshir, 42, a boat builder.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims have been facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland Burma.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
Despite the risks, many Rohingya Muslims are adamant to flee Burma for a better life.
Of course we are afraid of the traffickers, Abu Kassim said.
But the suffering may still be less than this life, so we must try, he said.
God willing, we will reach Malaysia.
San Shwe Maung blames the Burmese government for pushing the Rohingyas to flee the country.
The government wants to make us miserable, to push us out, the 30-year-old unemployed teacher said.
He complained that many Rohingya-owned businesses have been appropriated by the state.
We are like the second Jews.
Rights activists also blame the systematic state persecution for the growing numbers of Rohingya Muslims fleeing the country despite the risks.
This appears to be the intended outcome of a dire situation in which Rohingyas have been consolidated, denied free movement and a means of earning a living, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told The Washington Post.Rights groups have accused the Burmese security forces of killing, raping and arresting Rohingyas following the sectarian violence last year.