In mid-March, Sadeka Bibi set off with a small bundle of her belongings for an unmarked spot on the side of a road in southeast Bangladesh, filled at once with hope and fear.
A truck would meet her there, drive her to a place near the shore about an hour south, and she’d get on a boat that would ferry her illegally to Malaysia, where a man she had never met was waiting to marry her.
She knew it was dangerous. The boat could capsize. She could be beaten, starved or extorted by human traffickers. She could die. Or, like the 10 previous attempts she had made to get across, her escape could be thwarted by rough seas or border authorities. Still, to Sadeka, a 21-year-old Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, making the journey seemed like the only way for a fresh start.
It was either that or languish behind barbed wire, potentially for the rest of her life, in the world’s largest refugee camp, her immediate family scattered across three countries.
Sadeka’s story is the Rohingya’s in microcosm. Driven to the brink of destruction by rampaging soldiers, human traffickers and hostile governments, a community that was once believed to have numbered well over a million in Myanmar has been sundered, not by a single action, but by a series of blows that have left a people with no place to call home.