Rohingyas use marriage to widows to stay on in Malaysia

PADANG BESAR - Rohingya men who enter the country illegally will look for Muslim widows in a bid to escape their past and for a better future.

Their criteria of a preferred "life partner" is, elderly widow without children, so that marriage could take place without any hassle and objection. Such marriages are said to be quite common in Perlis, Kedah and Penang.

It is a bonus if the widow has her own property, but the Rohingya men's main objective is to be granted a permanent resident status and eventually, a citizenship.

For the widows, such marriages of convenience will afford them companionship, helping hands in their padi fields and partners to share their household burdens.

A 65-year-old widow, who wanted to be known only as Habibah, said her marriage to a 45-year-old Rohingya was one based on what they could gain out of each other.

She said she knew of several other widowed, elderly women who had entered into such marriages.

"We get our marriage registered and then the illegal status of our husbands would be converted into 'husband of a citizen'.

"Many of these illegals have relatives here. They can get settled quickly in our village without much problem," she said.

A former Perlis state assemblyman, who declined to be named, however, said not everyone was happy with the development.

He said many parents were wary of the increasing number of Rohingyas in their areas.

"They worry that the Rohingya men will lure their daughters into marriage, too, or worse still, elope with them.

"Some also worry that over time these Rohingya men, through their marriage with the locals, get to enjoy similar benefits as the locals," he said.

The worries expressed by the people are not without basis, as many of the Rohingyas who are already here are planning to bring in the rest of their families, too.

Khassim and Hussin, who have been in the country for 15 years, are among those who are expecting to see their family members later in the year.

Both said preparations were being made in their village in Myanmar to bring in about 300 people to Malaysia.

They said the villagers were pooling money to buy a boat and hire a captain to bring them into Malaysia.

"The earliest is by September when the sea is less rough," said Hussin.

Both said Rohingyas in Malaysia did not mind sending their savings back home to ensure that their families could come to Malaysia.

"It is better for us to spend our money on bringing them here. There is hope here and it is a Muslim country. We are much happier here," said Khassim.

Khassim and Hussin said many of their relatives in Myanmar had been shot or burnt to death.