Being an alien
By Cynthia Ng
May 23, 2014
Thirty-year-old Basir looks like any other migrant worker we come across on a daily basis -dark skinned, with curled, dishevelled hair and a distinct South Asian feature. He is someone that many locals would instinctively refer to as ‘Bangla’.
Basir is not from Bangladesh, but the neighbouring Rakhine, Myanmar, which he fled from two years ago to escape a state sanctioned massacre on his people - the Rohingya – a Muslim community brutally oppressed and persecuted because of their ethnicity.
Staying put in Rakhine means risk of being imprisoned, killed, and tortured and for the women, raped. So, Basir, like thousands of others, was forced to take to the high seas on flimsy boats, enduring days of starvation to reach any land which could provide protection.
Basir arrived on Malaysian soil in 2012 and was granted the refugee status. However, the status only signifies that they are temporary asylum seekers but not accorded the rights to work. Malaysia is not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Conventions, and therefore not obligated to help the refugees, or provide them any legal status and rights.
Although not allowed to work, most refugees continue to do so illegally to survive, while risking arrest and deportation. For Rohingya, going home is not an option.
After spending some time in detention camps, Basir found work as labourer at a furniture factory, but that did not last long. He was eventually let go because of the ‘trouble’ he was causing his employer for being repeatedly detained by authorities.
When I met Basir at his home - a small, dilapidated, and stench-filled flat he shared with two Rohingya families –he told me he was discouraged from finding work anymore for fear of being arrested and abused.
On top of that, he was cheated off RM400 salary by an employer who refused to pay, knowing well that no action can be taken against him.
At this point of time, Basir had resigned to relying on other Rohingya and NGOs for meals to get by, he said with a weary look in his eyes.
Basir’s story tells of desperation and exploitation - one that is shared by millions of refugees and migrants in the world.
|Two Rohingya men in their respective rooms at home, shared between few families at one time.|
I highlighted his story with hopes to give a different insight to the life of this community - the foreigners from third world countries - more often than not, dismissible in the eyes of the locals, whose value as human being is nothing more than being cheap labour.
We sometimes think of them – the migrant - as a nuisance, who crowds streets on weekends and public holidays, or, as a group of people that we can act disrespectfully to and hurl abusive words just because they have a ‘lesser’ voice.
The influx of immigrants has brought upon many social and demographic changes and with that, complex set challenges too – overcrowding, pollution, and crime.
We can complain that migrants have changed the characteristics of our cities - but they have also helped build it.
And lastly, this is hoping that we will think twice before dehumanizing this community because each of them could have a story of perseverance, suffering, desperation that we were fortunate enough not to experience.