Thousands of Rohingya People Risk Death, Slavery to Escape Myanmar

Inside the oppressive camps where thousands of men, women, children from a hated minority group in Myanmar live.
8:43 | 10/21/15

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Transcript for Thousands of Rohingya People Risk Death, Slavery to Escape Myanmar
Tonight, amnesty international is sounding the alarm about another migrant crisis. Over 140,000 people trapped in miserable camps with little hope for a better life on the outside. ABC's bob woodruff ventured to the other side of the world for a firsthand look at what it's really like to be a hated minority in your own country. Reporter: We're on our way into northern Myanmar to see what is happening with this repressed minority, refugees in their own country. They were the ones no one wanted. Thousands of men, women and children refugees trapped and adrift on cargo boats for several weeks this summer with no food or water, abandoned by the smugglers and traffickers they'd paid to get them out of Myanmar. After a huge public outcry, some were rescued. But thousands remain unaccounted for, feared dead or sold into slavery. What would make these people, members of a minority group, desperate enough to risk death and slavery to escape? It's so bad here, the best option is to force death, torture, or other abuses at sea and in Thailand just to escape. Reporter: We go deep into Myanmar to a restricted part of the country where journalists are almost never allowed. Matt smith, an activist and founder of fortify rights, is taking us in. Not an easy trip to get. Reporter: We head north. This is where most of this minority population live, just over 1 million people. The authorities have a lot to hide in this part of the country. What are they hiding? There's been systematic human rights violations committed against the rohingya Muslim population. Restrictions on food and movement, forced labor. Reporter: As we switched boat to car, we immediately notice a young man working on the side of the road flanked by policemen. Police tell us they are fix is the road. The government has said forced labor is not permitted and we could not confirm. But when we ask our driver, are they paid? No, he says, no pay. No pay? There's no pay. No pay, no pay. Reporter: Myanmar stripped this minority of their citizenship in 1982. The latest bout of repression began in 2012 incited by a buddhist monk who has been called the burmese bin laden and actively preaches against the minority. "Muslim children will be a threat to the country. They will destroy our religion and snatch away our lands." This video, obtained by fortify rights, shows thousands of the minority fleeing their homes as fires rage behind them. We traveled to see the oppressive camps where over 140,000 were forced to live after their homes were burned down. This has been called the world's largest outdoor prison. They cannot leave the camps to attend school, work or seek medical care. Children born in the camps are not issued birth certificates. They are stateless. To get here, we start with the buddhist driver. As we approach the camps we must switch drivers and vehicles. We enter the camp with a rohingya driver. Why are we going in the back entrance? The authorities are not interested in outside attention. Reporter: You can see barbed wire, police guarding the few exits. It might be okay but keep the cameras down. Reporter: Once inside it doesn't take long to see appalling conditions, made worse by the rainy season. Food is very limited here. Health care is almost nonexistent. How long ago he's been sick? Two years and nine months. Reporter: We see children suffering from malnutrition and other serious illnesses. But they still manage beautiful smiles for the camera. Our guide quickly points out that we are being watched. So many security. Police or military? Are they looking at us right now? They are watching us. Reporter: At this empty clinic, we find a 25-year-old mother of three named Rohanna. She gave birth nine days ago. Sadly, her baby died after three days. She is still bleeding and has been waiting for days to see a doctor, all because she is rohingya. How much longer does she need to wait before the doctor will come? After 45 days. 45 days? Reporter: We went to search for a doctor for her. We were told there may be one at a clinic in the neighboring camp. When we get there -- There is no doctor. There was no staff at the clinic so now we're going to another clinic. Hopefully there will be staff there. Reporter: We go to a third clinic. There she's told she must continue to wait. No wonder people are risking everything to leave. Some activists have called this a slow genocide. We met arafa, a young mother of five. She and her children were stranded on a cargo boat for 50 days over the summer. You knew they were going to try to sell you in some way? "Yes," she told me. She knew they may sell her as a slave if she did not pay. Your children were beaten by these traffickers? "Yes," she said. If they cried they were hit. out of here how much would I pay? Reporter: He said it would cost $2,000 U.S. Dollars. To escape they must travel several miles at night to the last camp at water's edge. From here they go to the beach. The boat waiting. The problem is that is the police post. They need to be paid $1,000 just to give these people a chance to flee. Once they clear the police, they have a long trip ahead. We traveled part of the route. A smaller boat that holds about 20 to 40 people will take them out to sea along this route. For about four to five hours out to a much larger boat waiting for them in international waters. Those boats are, in many cases, operated by transnational criminal syndicates that are buying and selling thousands of people. Reporter: Yet the risk of being trafficked by smugglers or dying at sea is a risk many here are willing to take to escape the repression. Experts say this is about to happen all over again, as soon as the rains end. We gained access to amangala, the last remaining rohingya neighborhood in the city. We met with a community leader. You've been here five generations but you're not a citizen and you're not given any rights? "Our government is trying to say we are not from here," he says, "But that is not true." There are less than 70 families left here and they don't know how long they'll be able to survive. We met with a leading buddhist monk to hear what he had to say about the Muslim minority. He told us the muslims killed the monks. Do you believe that the muslims would like to take over the country? Reporter: "Muslim people always try to occupy our land," he says. Is on for the rrohingya? He says they don't exist. The distrust goes both ways. It starts young. What's your name? Reporter: We met with rohingya children who shared their fears. Would you want to have a chance to meet some of the others that are buddhist? Reporter: They told me they don't want to meet any because they killed their families and burnt down their houses. Do you think someday you want to go back to the house you lived in? Reporter: They said they want to go back, but they're too afraid. So for now they must stay in the camps, enjoying what they can. Once the rain stops, thousands of men, women and children will take to the water again, willing to risk it all for a chance at a better life. I'm bob woodruff for "Nightline" in Myanmar. Willing to risk it all. Soon Myanmar will be holding what they're calling their first free elections in decades. Yet almost no rohingya will be allowed to vote. For those few who can, they will not find a rohingya candidate to vote for. Our thanks to bob for sharing their story.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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