‘I wished I was dead’: the harrowing plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims

GWEN IFILL: The plight of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims finally grabbed headlines only recently, after thousands were trapped at sea. Malaysia and Vietnam have since allowed some of them in. But about 300 Rohingyas have already died at sea this year. And there are reports of others still stranded.

Earlier today, President Obama warned Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, that if it wants to become a successful democracy, it needs to take its treatment of the Rohingya minority seriously.

We take a closer look tonight at that treatment.

Lucy Watson of Independent Television News traveled in Myanmar's Rakhine State, and filed this report.

LUCY WATSON: Life for the Rohingya community is one of rejection and suffering, stateless Muslims stigmatized and segregated in Buddhist Myanmar, regarded as illegal immigrants, so looking for any escape.

Gilda Bagoom and her family tried. They fled to Malaysia on a trip with 400 others, an ordeal that lasted 50 days. They were rescued two weeks ago.

WOMAN (through interpreter): We got a handful of rice a day. We had to sit in the same place for the whole trip. If you moved, you got beaten.

WOMAN (through interpreter): The Thai crew was so brutal. Some days, I just wanted to jump into the sea. I wished I was dead. It was so hard.

LUCY WATSON: But Zura Bayan's husband left more than a month ago. Their family has heard nothing of him since.

WOMAN (through interpreter): I'm so worried about him. I think he must be dead. I'm terrified for my sister and the future of her children. It's so difficult for them here. They have little to survive on.

LUCY WATSON: A million Rohingyas are confined to Rakhine State, 140,000 of them living in camps like these. They see their existence like living in a prison. That is the root of the problem that is pushing them into the clutches of the traffickers, traffickers who are known to them.

One agreed to talk to ITV News.

MAN (through interpreter): There are lots of us breakers here. We earn 150 pounds a person when we take them to the big ship.

LUCY WATSON: This minority with little access to education, medicines or sanitation is being capitalized on, as the government still refuses to class some as Burmese.

U TING MAUNG SWE, Rakhine State Executive Secretary: I'm afraid and I'm worried. Some people, they don't follow our program and they don't — they don't — they are refusing to apply citizenship. So, that's why this is a big problem.

LUCY WATSON: But while Rohingyas' homes are gated and their movements monitored, the desire for real freedom via the sea won't fade.

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