The story of a family from western Myanmar that was torn apart during a regional migration crisis, published in The New York Times on Monday, has elicited an outpouring of response from readers who want to help them and other members of the Rohingya ethnic group. The family’s mother, Hasinah Izhar, fled poverty and persecution in Myanmar late last year, taking her three younger children with her on a grueling sea journey with smugglers to reunite with her husband in Malaysia. But she left behind her oldest son, Jubair, unable to find him when she left and unable to afford his journey.
“Thousands of people will read this story,” one reader wrote. “Thousands of us will want to do something to help. I can’t magically get this child across the sea into his mother’s arms, but I’d do it if I could.” Others offered to adopt the boy, to fly him to his family in Malaysia, pay for him to get an education, or move the family to a better life in the United States. Unfortunately, most of those wishes are difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill.
The Rohingya are stateless, considered intruders in their native Myanmar, so Jubair has no citizenship, no passport and cannot even leave his village without government permission. His family entered Malaysia without visas and has no official status there while seeking accreditation as refugees. Many of their problems are as much political as economic, stemming from Myanmar’s discriminatory policies against the Rohingya. But the government has shown no inclination to change them, or, as the United Nations Human Rights Council demanded on Friday, to grant the Rohingya full citizenship rights.
There are advocacy groups, like Fortify Rights, based in Bangkok, that focus on human rights issues in Southeast Asia, including those of Rohingya refugees. There are also aid groups working to help the Rohingya in Myanmar and abroad, though their activities are circumscribed by government policies. Some international aid groups have been expelled from Myanmar for helping the Rohingya, and some still working there asked not to be included in this article for fear of being expelled if their work was linked to the Rohingya.
“We have been very careful not to be publicly identified in the media as simply helping the Rohingya,” said a senior official of one charity in Myanmar. “Access to populations is essential if one wishes to make a positive difference in their lives.” Here are some of the charities seeking to improve the treatment of Rohingya in Myanmar and abroad:
Mercy Malaysia runs mobile clinics in parts of Myanmar heavily populated by Rohingya, and it has also provided medical aid and other support to Rohingya held at a government camp in northern Malaysia.
The American Jewish World Service promotes political rights for ethnic minorities in Myanmar and farmers’ access to resources, and it helps finance some Rohingya aid groups there. Partners Relief and Development provides emergency relief to refugee camps in Myanmar where tens of thousands of Rohingya live in great hardship. The relief includes rice, medical support, and seeds and fertilizer for farming.
In Malaysia, the Suriana Welfare Society for Children helps Rohingya and Bangladeshi children obtain schooling and medicine. Other charities helping Rohingya and other needy groups in Malaysia include Islamic Relief Malaysia, Carefugees and Charity Right. The blog Insight on Conflict offers a list of aid and advocacy groups in Myanmar, with links to the organizations.
Reuniting the family, however, is not in the purview of any of these groups. Short of smuggling, the option chosen by tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee in recent years, Myanmar would have to relax its restrictions on travel by the Rohingya to allow Jubair to leave. And Ms. Izhar and her family would have to win official refugee status from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a process that could take months.
Then, eventually, they might be resettled to a third country, where Jubair could join them, if Myanmar allowed him to leave.