Rohingya Vision

A Mother’s Anguished Choice to Leave One Child Behind in Myanmar

Children fetching water in the Rohingya village of Thayet Oak in Myanmar. Since 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar, where they are officially considered intruders. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

A Mother’s Anguished Choice to Leave One Child Behind in Myanmar
July 06
11:30 2015


GELUGOR, MALAYSIA — Carrying one child in her arm, a second on her back and holding the hand of a third, Hasinah Izhar waded waist-deep through a mangrove swamp into the Bay of Bengal, toward a fishing boat bobbing in the dusk.

“Troops are coming, troops are coming,” the smuggler said. “Get on the boat quickly.”

If she was going to change her mind, she would have to do it now.

Ms. Izhar, 33, had reached the muddy shore after sneaking down the dirt paths and around the fish ponds of western Myanmar, where she and about one million other members of the Rohingya minority are made stateless, shunned and persecuted for their Muslim faith.

She had signed up for passage to Malaysia, but knew that the voyage would be treacherous, that even if she survived, the smugglers would demand ransom before letting her and her children go, and that they sometimes beat, tortured or sold into slavery those who could not pay.

Her husband, who had raised shrimp and cattle, had been among tens of thousands who made the journey two years earlier, after Buddhist mobs rampaged through villages like their own, burning houses and killing at least 200 people. He had warned her not to follow, telling her that the trip was too dangerous and too expensive.

But as she reached the wooden skiff that would take them on the first leg of a week long journey, one terrible fact weighed heaviest: She had left behind her oldest child, a 13-year-old boy named Jubair.

But lost in the diplomatic wrangling over the fate of the Rohingya are the anguished choices faced by the families who leave and the harrowing personal consequences they must endure.

Ms. Izhar knew it would cost as much as $2,000 just to bring her three youngest children to Malaysia. Taking Jubair could double the smugglers’ price, and she had only $500 from selling their house, a bamboo and mud-daub hut in the village of Thayet Oak.

The eighth of 10 children raised by a farming couple, she had spent her entire life in the countryside around the village. She was married there at 18, and lost her first husband to a sudden illness.

She relied on help from relatives to support her two gangly boys, Jubair and Junaid. A few years later, she married again and had another boy, Sufaid, and then a girl, Parmin.

It was while she was pregnant with Parmin that her husband fled to Malaysia.

Buddhist militants, incensed by rumors that Muslims had raped a Buddhist woman, had attacked villages like Thayet Oak across Arakan (Rakhine) State, the coastal region home to most of Myanmar’s Rohingya. The police and the army stood by and did nothing.

Worried that he would be arrested and beaten like some of his friends, Ms. Izhar’s husband, Dil Muhammad Rahman, went into hiding, making fleeting visits home in the dead of night. Then in late 2012, he disappeared entirely, not calling to tell her that he had gone to Malaysia until three months after he arrived.

Violence against the Rohingya flared again last year. Ms. Izhar heard rumors of children being shot. She saw police officers break a man’s hand and strike another in the head with clubs, leaving him bleeding and unconscious.

Women living alone were especially vulnerable, and when night fell, she kept the house dark and hushed her children. “I didn’t even light a lamp,” she said.

Fear was a constant. By December, when word of ships waiting in the Bay of Bengal spread through the villages, she could not wait any longer.

“How can I stay here?” she asked. “The old, the young, everyone has to keep watch on the village every night to protect the women. All the women are going to Malaysia, so I will go to Malaysia, too.”

Now, as she heaved her children into the boat in the darkness, her mind was a jumble of relief, fear and regret.

Malaysia is a Muslim nation, she knew, and she believed she and her children would be safe there.

But she had not told her husband they were coming. She hoped he would still be happy to see them, and that he would find the money to pay the smugglers.

“I had to take the boat full of sadness and fear in my heart,” she said. “My husband wouldn’t let anyone kill us. He would rescue us somehow.”

Most of all, though, she was tormented by the thought of Jubair.

What would become of him, alone in Thayet Oak, exposed to the very dangers she was running from? What would have become of her other children if they had stayed?

When it was time to leave, Jubair was off with friends in another village, and there was no time to think. She gathered up the other children, packed a bundle with a few changes of clothes for the children and three plastic bottles of water, and fled.

Now, as the shoreline receded in the distance, she wished she had had a chance to explain her decision to Jubair, and to hug him goodbye.

“Some words came to my mind,” she recalled later. “If I can stay alive, I will bring him to Malaysia. I felt very sad to leave my boy behind, but it would be better for the family if we left to live or die somewhere else. We couldn’t stay.”

Note:Changes have been made,New York times is not responsible for these.

Source:New York Times.




Read further on:



About Author



Related Articles