KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia has been a sort of promised land for Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The tens of thousands who endured perilous journeys to get here find more work opportunities than in Indonesia and a more Muslim-friendly environment than in Thailand.
Rohingya face a tenuous existence here, unable to legally work because Malaysia, like Thailand and Indonesia, doesn’t recognize asylum seekers and refugees and has not signed the U.N. Refugee Convention. They mostly scrape by on dirty or dangerous jobs shunned by Malaysians, live in squalid conditions and have no access to free health care and state-run schools.
For many Rohingya, even living on the margins of Malaysian society is a step forward. But those who have been here for years yearn for something better — at least for their children.
The desperation of the Rohingya has been highlighted in recent weeks by boatloads of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh stranded in Malacca Strait waters after their traffickers abandoned them near the end of risky 1,700-kilometer (1,000-mile) voyages amid a clampdown by local authorities. Some 3,500 came ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, but many of those now at shelters say their goal was to get to Malaysia.