Rohingya only part of 150,000 migrants in country
|Malaysia is host to more than 150,000 migrants who come from as far as Somalia and Iran besides ethnic groups from Myanmar. — Picture by Choo Choy May|
By Jonathan Edward
June 7, 2015
PETALING JAYA — The plight of Rohingya migrants is well known but Malaysia hosts more than 150,000 migrants who come from as far as Somalia and Iran besides ethnic groups from Myanmar.
There are also Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Somalis, Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Palestinians here.
Malay Mail had an opportunity to meet some of the migrants at the Art for Grabs event at Jaya One held in conjunction with World Refugee Day.
Ben Ting, 32, an ethnic Rvwang from Kachin state, arrived here with a group four years ago after leaving his family in Myanmar.
“My life was in danger. The ethnic Bamar peole who form the majority kept coming to my village and taking away young men for forced labour and none ever came back,” he said.
“I took the land route through Thailand and spent many nights walking through the jungle until I reached Malaysia.”
Ben hand-makes traditional clothing and accessories which are sold through a church that supports him and others from his community.
Sa Nine, a 17-year-old ethnic Karen from Mon state, was forced from her family’s farm at gunpoint by Bamar militiamen.
“My father said it wasn’t safe for us to stay. So we came to Malaysia through Thailand with the help of an agent who we paid to guide us across the border,” she said.
Asked if she would return to Myanmar, she said: “Some states have been declared safe but they really are not. So, we will continue to appeal for resettlement elsewhere.
“Malaysia is a nice country but it is not my home. I’m just a guest here.”
Komeil, 32, from the northern Iranian province of Guilan, fled his homeland because of religious persecution.
“I had been jailed off and on for several years. After the last time I knew I had to leave or I would not live see tomorrow, so I just got on a plane and left,” he said.
He has been in Malaysia for the past four years and expects to be resettled in America as he has relatives there.
“You don’t get to pick which country they (UNHCR) will send you to but having relatives increases your chances. I used to be an engineer but now I paint for a living,” he said, pointing to his canvass with a half-finished painting of a broken vase.
Asked if he would consider going back if things changed there, he said it would take time for change to come.
“If there could be change I would have stayed back and helped that change happen. Nothing is going to change there,” he said.
Meida Noor Bakr, a former mathematics teacher from Gorgan in northern Iran, has been in Malaysia for nearly four years with her husband and two children.
Her husband was a journalist who was arrested in a government crackdown and jailed for two years.
“They beat him every day and told him they would jail me and my children. They made him understand that we would all be punished for what he had done,” she said.
“Staying in Malaysia is hard as we cannot work legally and my husband can only do odd-jobs. In Iran, this was my hobby. Now it’s my only income,” she added, holding one of her paintings.
Mahshar, 40, a former schoolteacher from Kurdistan, fled her homeland because of ethnic tensions.
“They made us understand we would be killed if we didn’t leave,” she said, declining to elaborate.
“I never want to return. I still have nightmares of what I have seen,” she added, when asked if she would return to her hometown some day.
Kurdistan is split between Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. It is not recognised as a country, with the Kurds among the most persecuted minorities in the world.
As of May, there are 152,830 registered migrants registered with UNHCR in Malaysia comprising 49,600 Chins, 45,910 Rohingya, 12,320 Myanmar Muslims, and 7,280 Rakhines and Arakanese from Myanmar.
There are also 3,890 Sri Lankans, 1,210 Pakistanis, 1,090 Somalis, 950 Syrians, 830 Iraqis, 540 Iranians and 430 Palestinians here.