Special Report

Migrant crises: Perilous quest for safety

A Rohingya boy and elders walk at a market near Thel-Chaung displacement camp in Sittwe located in Rakhine State on Nov 8, 2015.
A Rohingya boy and elders walk at a market near Thel-Chaung displacement camp in Sittwe located in Rakhine State on Nov 8, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

This year has seen two migrant crises unfolding - one in South-east Asia, involving tens of thousands of mainly Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar's Rakhine state, and the other in Europe, which saw a record flow of nearly one million people, many of them from conflict-torn Syria. The Straits Times' Foreign Desk traces the treacherous journeys of two refugee families

Muslim-Buddhist couple's path fraught with danger

Mr Abdul Islam and his wife Asimah with their son Shahid (not their real names) do not venture far from their home in Bangkok for fear of drawing the attention of the immigration authorities.ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE

BANGKOK • He was a Rohingya Muslim whose family ran  a fleet of boats in Myanmar's Rakhine state. She was a Buddhist shopkeeper living in a village next to his.

In a region riven by ethnic and religious tensions, their union was not just rare but downright dangerous. Faced with persistent intimidation, they fled their homeland in 2010 on an arduous journey that eventually brought them to Thailand early this year.

Mr Abdul Islam was 19 years old when he met Ms Asimah, 28, in 2008. She had to travel twice a week to the nearby Buthidaung town to restock the groceries in her shop. The quiet, square-jawed young man waived the 1,000 kyat (S$1) boat fare each time because "we are neighbours".


Close brush with death in Syrian's flight to Germany

Syrian migrant Fadi Haddad with his wife Ranya and three daughters in their Frankfurt flat. His family joined him from Istanbul, after he arrived in Germany where he gained refugee status. PHOTO: MARILYN GERLACH

Mr Fadi Haddad crawled under barbed wire in Syria's north-western village of Kessab and crossed a forest to reach Turkey, the start of a journey to the edge of despair in the hands of unscrupulous migrant smugglers.

Twice, he had a brush with death - once on a sinking boat and another time when a screwdriver-wielding refugee charged at him in a German transit camp.

"Even now, I think my life is in danger," says Mr Haddad, 39, from his flat, his mournful eyes staring from a gaunt, thinly bearded face as he reflects on his seven attempts by sea, land and air to reach Germany.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'PERILOUS QUEST FOR SAFETY'. Print Edition | Subscribe