YANGON (AFP) – After his mother begged him to stay, Mr Maung Soe Naing decided not to join his fellow Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s military five years ago.
He still lives where he calls home, but is trapped there by onerous restrictions on movement.
He has all but stopped planning for the future, slowly letting his house go to ruin.
The 2017 military campaign drove more than 740,000 refugees into neighbouring Bangladesh, bringing reports of murder, arson and rape in a crackdown the United States has since said constituted genocide.
Roughly 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are either housed in camps after being displaced in previous shocks of violence, or live a precarious existence in their villages at the mercy of military and border guards.
Most are denied citizenship and subject to restrictions on movement, their health care and education – treatment that Human Rights Watch has said amounts to “apartheid”.
Mr Maung Soe Naing was working away from home when soldiers and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists began rampaging through Rohingya villages in response to attacks carried out by Rohingya insurgents on Aug 25, 2017.
“I couldn’t even stand still because of the fear,” he told AFP, using a pseudonym because of the risk of reprisal attacks for speaking to international media.
A Rakhine friend helped him hide from security forces and wait out the rampaging mobs before he was reunited with his mother a month later.
“I stayed for my mother because she was crying on the phone in fear she wouldn’t be able to see me in the future if I fled,” he said.
Any hopes that life would improve after the violence have been dashed.
Authorities have “limited our movement more than before and job opportunities and connections have been cut off”, he said.
“After 2017, we have so many tragic stories… it becomes like a burden.”
He stopped making repairs to his house each rainy season for fear that it could be lost in another crackdown, he said.
“We don’t have a future.”