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"I just want my family to be together again" - Rohingya woman detained in Thailand

Noru, 22, holds the son she gave birth to on a fishing boat after fleeing Myanmar in January. The stateless Rohingya Muslim is seen here in a government-run shelter in southern Thailand, on June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
July 24, 2013

PHANG NGA - Violence in western Myanmar between stateless Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists first erupted more than a year ago, in June 2012, followed by further bloodshed in October. Scores were killed, thousands of buildings burnt and the communal tension and distrust seems as intractable as ever. Some 140,000 people remain displaced, almost all of them Muslims.

Living conditions worsened, forcing the Rohingya - who have lived in Myanmar for generations but are denied citizenship - to pay smugglers to help them flee Myanmar in ramshackle wooden boats. Estimates on the number of people launching out from the Bay of Bengal between June 2012 and May 2013 range from 27,000 to nearly 35,000 - the biggest exodus in years.

Some passengers are from Bangladesh, but most are Rohingya, including 22-year-old Noru, who was heavily pregnant when she fled and actually gave birth during the treacherous journey. 

Detained in southern Thailand, where she has been held in a government-run shelter with 61 other women and children since February, she told Thomson Reuters Foundation about her desire for her family to be reunited.

“I’m from Kyaukphyu (a major town in Rakhine State in western Myanmar), but after our home was burnt down in October, my family made our way to Sittwe and stayed in a camp. In January, we boarded a fishing boat with my husband and two daughters who are eight and four. 

“There were more than 100 people on the boat. There were more men than women. It was very cramped.

“I suffered a lot on the boat in my pregnant state, but what could we do? We couldn’t live in Myanmar anymore, so we had to leave.

“We brought some water and food and a change or two of clothes. Others brought rice and different snacks, and we shared the food and water, but they ran out pretty quickly. 

“I gave birth six days into the journey. It was at night, and I had labour pains for two hours. It was very painful.

“Zawbader, a Rohingya woman who was on the boat with me, and another woman helped deliver my son.

“There was no medicine, no food and no water. I had to take saltwater when I was thirsty during labour. I cried. 

“I sort of knew I could give birth on the boat, but after we lost our home, my mind wasn’t clear anymore, and I couldn’t even really remember how far along in the pregnancy I was.

“It took 12 days to get to Thailand. When we reached Thailand, we were given food and water by the Thai Navy and told to leave, but we didn’t have much petrol left so had to come back.

“We arrived in Kuraburi (a district in southern Thailand) and stayed there for five days before getting arrested. The police took us to the station, questioned us and then brought us to this shelter in February. We had to leave our husbands behind at the police station.

“We’ve been here since February. You ask me are we ok? How can we be ok? We came as a family but now we’re all separated. The children want their father. He hasn’t seen his kids since we were separated (by the Thai authorities).

“It doesn’t matter where we go or where we are. I just want my family to be together again.”

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Rohingya Exodus