They live from day to day in fear, not knowing where they will be the next day, fearing raids in the dark hours of the morning. There is no way to make a decent living or to live with human dignity, even here in Malaysia. Seen as ‘undocumented’ and ‘illegal’ under Malaysian immigration laws, they have no rights, not even the basic right to life. Angeline Loh describes the heart-rending plight of the “invisible” refugees in Malaysia.
‘Hector’ sat at the table under the tree in the open-air coffee shop, looking reflectively at his glass of fruit juice. His mind seemed to be miles away and a sad smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
Pulling his thoughts into the present again, he looked up brightly and said, “Burma is a beautiful country. Where I come from, there are orchards. We grow apples and oranges. The climate is so cool and at winter time, we have to wear warm clothing in the northern region. I love fruit juice; I used to have it everyday from the large apples plucked from the trees in our orchard.”
Now he can only have it occasionally, and what he gets is only a shadow of the fresh, wholesome juice of a whole large juicy apple or orange he used to get for free at home.
‘Hector’ is a Burmese refugee of Chin ethnicity. He had to flee from the home and the land he loves because his freedom and life were threatened by a regime that advocates and adheres to a repressive and authoritarian ideology. A natural teacher, Hector believes in education. .
Like so many others fleeing the violence of the current Myanmar regime, he sought a safe haven here, in Malaysia – hoping to return to his beloved homeland one day, when democracy, justice and peace prevail.
Yet, refugees like him, whose longing and homesickness is hidden from our eyes, cannot find peace or sanctuary in our rich land. They seem to have run from one hell to another.
Some, like ‘Saul’, console themselves that it is better here than back home in Myanmar: “At least, we may still see our relatives here even if they are detained in the immigration detention camps.”
Yet, merely to communicate with one’s loved ones has its price. Refugee homes and make-shift shelters are frequently raided and destroyed by Rela. These refugees are thrown into abject poverty as their few possessions are taken away from them. Often they are brutalised and degraded by these ‘security forces’ approved by the authorities. They are trafficked, exploited and robbed by any opportunist engaged in this shady and inhuman flesh trade.
They live from day to day in fear, not knowing where they will be the next day, fearing raids in the dark hours of the morning. There is no way to make a decent living or to live with human dignity, even here in Malaysia. Seen as ‘undocumented’ and ‘illegal’ under Malaysian immigration laws, they have no rights, not even the basic right to life. They have been relegated to being a society of ‘untouchables’ and outcasts, accorded no humanity, in our homeland.
Sanctuary appears to be an illusion. Peace and justice, only an ideal aspired to.
We have much to learn from the refugees, their courage and resilience. ‘Hector’ and ‘Saul’, are God-fearing people and wish no harm to anyone; their only wish is for peace and justice for themselves, their communities and the country they love and hope to return to one day, without ever having to be forced to leave it again.