Hope Floats: Rohingya risks all on boat for better life

An immigrant from Myanmar smuggled in by sea tells of his journey, and why he had to flee his tumultuous homeland

Two months ago, Yub, a 28-year-old Rohingya man, slipped quietly into Thailand after he paid 400,000 kyat (142,000 baht) to a human trafficker to take him out of Myanmar's violence-plagued Rakhine state.

Travelling by boat, he went undetected and made it to a safe house for smuggled Rohingya in Thailand's South where he waited for a relative in Bangkok to make the final payment for his passage.

"I contacted one of the Rohingya agents who said he lives a good life in Thailand and he told me I could be happier there," Yub told the Bangkok Post Sunday through an interpreter.

"He said if I want to come to Thailand, he can help me. He asked for 400,000 kyat. Since my relative helped me, it was not that difficult for me.

"We arrived without getting caught. I really don't know where we got out from the boat, but a group of people came to pick us up and took us to the deep jungle where there are hundreds of Rohingya people living.

"At one point, it felt like home. A home where we can really sleep without worrying about soldiers coming in and robbing us of food and money.

"I stayed there for almost a week before my relative came to pay the money to get me out of that camp. Then he found me a job."

Yub, not his real name, is one of the thousands of Rohingya who make their way to Thailand by boat every year from November to March when the seas are considered less dangerous by the skippers of the smuggling boats.

Surapong Kongchantuk from the Lawyers Council of Thailand, who has dealt with many Rohingya human rights cases, says despite the best efforts of the government to address the problem, the Rohingya are coming in greater numbers.

In 1998 there were only 104 recorded arrests of Rohingya, but by 2007 the figure had swelled to 4,880. In 2009, the figure dropped to 93 arrests following an international outcry over Thai officials pushing Rohingya boats out to sea. However, in 2010 the number of arrests rose sharply again to 2,350.

Mr Surapong is concerned by the growing involvement of organised gangs of Rohingya, Thai officials and fixers in the trafficking rackets.

He also says the figures on Rohingya arrivals exclude those who make it into Thailand without being detected.

Yub has found work in the fishing industry in the South and says he can earn 300 baht a day with overtime. He keeps a low profile, living with other Rohingya in a shared home and only venturing out to go to work.

At this stage, he has no intention of leaving Thailand, as many other stateless Rohingya do.

"I am glad I did not end up in a place where they treat Rohingya like slaves," he said. "So, I think I will stay here. My relative who lives here told me he owes so much to Thai people who have been kind to him. He also said he owes so much to the Kingdom to allow him to live peacefully."

About the author

Writer: Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai