“There aren’t any real opportunities for employment here; there are hardly any fish to catch either,” says Suleiman, a Rohingya man living in Nget Chaung, home to some 9,000 people. “Because there’s so little trade, we can’t buy the things we want. People here are sad. They are frustrated that they can’t go anywhere or do anything more. We hold our frustration inside because we cannot speak out—there are no opportunities for that. We cannot even travel to the next township, so people keep everything inside, bottled up.”
An estimated 550,000 to 600,000 Rohingya are still living across Rakhine state. Their already difficult lives have become harder as they and other communities suffer the consequences of a worsening conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group.
“We just want our freedom, to have our own livelihoods, and to sleep at night without worrying,” says Suleiman. “The longyi [cloth] is a symbol of Myanmar, and all the ethnicities of Myanmar have their own pattern, but not us. We wear the longyi, but we have no pattern. We own nothing. I wish people could look at us and see us for who we are. I just want people to know who the Rohingya are.”
Malaysia: Pushed into the shadows
Rohingya people have also been fleeing to Malaysia over the past 30 years. But those who make the journey end up marginalized and without legal status. Unable to work legally, they often disappear into Malaysia’s urban black market economy, where they are vulnerable to exploitation, debt bondage, and hazardous jobs. Walking down the street or even seeking medical care can result in refugees being extorted or sent to detention centers.