A quarter of a million Burmese fled ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar for Saudi Arabia half a century ago.
The fleeing Burmese community integrated into Saudi society and has solidified its presence in the city of Mecca, which has become a cultural melting pot.
Ibrahim is a member of the Burmese community who has successfully integrated.
“The Arabic language, thank God, we studied it here, thank God, we grew up here. And, with that, we have not forgotten our original language, which is the Rohingya language. As for my sister, she is married to a Saudi national, and I, thank God, am engaged [to someone] from a Saudi family,” said Ibrahim.
Abu al-Shamaa Abdulmajeed al-Arkani is the leader of the Burmese Rohingya community in Saudi Arabia.
“I have been in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the reign of King Abdul Aziz, may he rest in peace from the beginning of the year 1368, according to the Hijri calendar. A number of [Burmese], you can count them on your hands, came [to the country] and received Saudi citizenship,” said al-Arkani.
He says that changes to Saudi Arabia’s residency laws have reduced work opportunities for the Burmese community over the past three decades. That is, until the Saudi authorities decided to take action.
The Saudi project to improve the lives of the Burmese community looks promising in terms of integrating them into regular public education, healthcare and employment.
The authorities have also decided to recognize them as a community that is under the protection of the kingdom, meaning they do not have to abide by Saudi residence laws and regulations.