Barricaded In, Myanmar's Rohingya Struggle To Survive In Ghettos And Camps : Parallels Habibullah considers himself lucky. His movements are restricted but he and his family live in their longtime house in a police-guarded ghetto. Many of his neighbors were forced into internment camps.
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Barricaded In, Myanmar's Rohingya Struggle To Survive In Ghettos And Camps

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Barricaded In, Myanmar's Rohingya Struggle To Survive In Ghettos And Camps

Barricaded In, Myanmar's Rohingya Struggle To Survive In Ghettos And Camps

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Southeast Asia is also dealing with a migrant crisis. In recent months, the number of people fleeing Myanmar has ballooned. Many countries in the region blame the way that government treats Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognized as citizens of any country. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Western Myanmar, many of those who have not fled are struggling to survive.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The summer monsoons have turned this Rohingya internment camp into a sea of mud lapping at rows of thatched bamboo huts. I meet a man, named Habibullah, with a wispy beard, wearing a white robe and skullcap. He uses just one name. Habibullah has come to the camp to get medical treatment. Now he's going to return with a police escort to his home, a Rohingya ghetto called Aung Mingalar in the city of Sittwe.

HABIBULLAH: (Through interpreter) It's like a prison without walls. Instead of walls, there are police checkpoints.

KUHN: Most of Aung Mingalar's residents fled or were forced into the camps three years ago during violence between the Rohingya and members of the mostly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group. Today, about 4,000 of the original 15,000 are still hanging on in the ghetto. I decide to head to Aung Mingalar so that I can be there when Habibullah arrives.

The trucks from the camp have arrived. In a pouring rain, people are unloading bamboo and other supplies to go into the enclave of Aung Mingalar.

I follow Habibullah back to his wooden house. The area is not affluent, but the buildings are certainly more solid than those in the internment camps. Habibullah used to sell dried fish over the border to Bangladesh. During the 2012 violence, he lost his business. All of his fish rotted in a warehouse. Now, he says, he and his family are struggling to survive on the small daily rations of rice the state government provides. He holds up his 4-year-old son who, he says, has had a fever for almost a month.

HABIBULLAH: (Through interpreter) He's not getting good medical treatment, and he's malnourished. He has become weak, and now he's unable to walk.

KUHN: Walk for a few minutes in any direction in this ghetto, and you come to a man-made boundary.

So here, I've come to a checkpoint, a metal barrier with barbed wire on it that separates the neighborhood of Aung Mingalar from the Rakhine neighborhood outside. And there are armed police and soldiers separating the two neighborhoods.

Myanmar's government says the soldiers are necessary because for now, the Rohingya and the Rakhine cannot live together in peace. It denies accusations that it's committing ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. It insists that it's treating them humanely even though it considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Tin Maung Swe is executive secretary of the Rakhine state government. He says the government will resettle the Rohingya in new homes. For now, he says, their travel is still restricted, but the government helps them to get around.

TIN MAUNG SWE: If they want to go to town, we have arranged a car every day. They can go by this car. In case of emergency case, if they want to go to hospital, to Yangon or other places, OK, we can arrange.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking in Arabic).

KUHN: The call to prayer goes out from a Rohingya mosque. Fellow Muslims, particularly in Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, have expressed sympathy and outrage about the plight of the Rohingya. Abdul Hakim is an imam at the mosque next to Habibullah's home. He says he worries that too much suffering could radicalize Rohingya youth and force them to consider jihad or holy war.

ABDUL HAKIM: (Through interpreter) Jihad would require radical ideology and foreign support. But if we had those, the Myanmar government would destroy us, so we don't dare to use the word jihad.

KUHN: Back at his home, Habibullah cradles his feverish son. He says that as bad as things are here, he's lucky to be in his own home and not in the camps. He says it's important for Rohingya to hang on to this foothold to show that they have the right to live in this place.

HABIBULLAH: (Through interpreter) We'll never move out of this quarter no matter what problems we face, including lack of food. God willing, those who had to leave will be able to return.

KUHN: He asks for the faithful to pray that his neighbors may soon come home. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Sittwe, Myanmar.

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