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Rohingya men living in Malaysia turn to mail-order brides

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Rohingya, a displaced minority found in Myanmar have found new employment opportunities abroad. Many Rohingya men have found construction jobs in nearby Malaysia. While there, a huge cultural gap exists between the refugee labor force and the native population, leaving the displaced Rohingya man at a loss for love and romance. They have started to circumvent this problem by a "mail order bride" network that imports females from Myanmar.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - "In the past many Rohingya men in Malaysia married undocumented Indonesian or Burmese Muslim women," one refugee says. "But from 2009 it became more common to send a Rohingya bride from their village by air."

Activists and refuges estimate that hundreds of Rohingya brides have been sent over since 2009, with 67 making the trip last year.

"In our camp there have been many men who went over (to Malaysia) who have since been in touch to say 'hey, send me a woman to marry,'" Deen Mohammed, a refugee living in Leda camp in Cox's Bazaar in southeast Bangladesh says.

Family members back in Myanmar and the refugee camps in Bangladesh look out for potential female mates. Once the right woman is found, deals are struck.

The suitor, sometimes his parents then come to an agreement with the bride-to-be's parents, which can involve monthly payments or a lump-sum figure. The girl herself is rarely consulted.

Arrangements must then be made with the brokers who then arrange the fake passports, tickets, and other documentation for the girl and her companion who often pose as her husband to get her through the scrutiny of immigration officials.

Thailand's attitude towards refugee boats has changed, prompting the influx of mail order brides.

Having previously turned a blind eye, Thailand began to push refugee boats back to sea in 2009, leaving their passengers vulnerable to risks of dehydration and death. This shift coincided with a boom in low-cost air travel in Asia, with airlines like AirAsia adding hundreds of routes in 2008.

Parents unwilling to risk their daughter's lives by sending them on a small boat seem to be more receptive to the notion of sending them by plane, opening the door for lonely men to spend his savings on a bride, a broker and their plane tickets.

Some point out that the cost of bringing a bride to Malaysia by boat is now more expensive than by air. "For the boat, the brokers charge more for the women than they do for the men, about $2, 280," Deen Mohammed says. "The plane ticket costs about $1,500, getting a fake passport and other documents costs about $250."

Many refugees don't have the luxury of choice. "Many of the refugees aren't able to make the arrangements to go by plane . Not everyone is able to get a passport and other documents."

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