Rohingya in Malaysia open doors to newcomers

Telling the Human Story, 28 April 2014

© UNHCR/B.Baloch
Abdul Alam (left) has taken 15 people from his family and village in Myanmar to stay in his rented home in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, April 28 (UNHCR) Fourteen years ago, Hazzurahman fled Myanmar's Rakhine state on a boat and ended up in Malaysia. With time, he found work, a place to live, and started a family in exile.

Fourteen years later, his nephew Hassan* has followed in his footsteps with one exception the 16-year-old couldn't walk and had to be carried to safety in Kuala Lumpur.

Far from being a rite of passage, the arduous journeys they undertook were prompted by a cycle of violence that has driven tens of thousands of Rohingya in Rakhine state to seek refuge in the region.

In Malaysia, the UN refugee agency has registered more than 35,000 Rohingya over the years, and believes there are more out there. While UNHCR provides documentation, and support for the most vulnerable among them, a lot of support comes from the community itself. Those who came earlier are now hosting relatives and fellow villagers who have arrived more recently.

"He was very young when I left home. We didn't really recognize each other after all these years," said Hazurrahman, 37, about his nephew. "I asked why he came, with so much suffering. He said young people were getting arrested, going missing. He was afraid he would be next."

When he first arrived, Hassan couldn't feel his legs after months of confinement and malnutrition in a smuggler's camp in Thailand. His uncle has had to help him with everything, including taking him to the bathroom several times a day. In addition, Hazurrahman has to provide physical care for his wife and their baby born over a month ago. These added responsibilities have affected his presence at work and cost him his job installing marble tiles.

He's not alone in this predicament. Fellow Rohingya construction worker Abdul Alam, 33, recently lost his job due to a back injury. In addition to his wife and three children, he now hosts 15 other people in three rented rooms in Kuala Lumpur.

Abdul himself arrived in 1995 after fleeing forced porterage and charges of unauthorized movement back home. His parents, siblings and in-laws joined him after the 2012 inter-communal violence in Sittwe. Recently he took in two newcomers a mother and son from his village in Rakhine state.

"Even though some of them are not related to us, we know each other and are all connected somehow. I had to help them," said Abdul. "I have some savings and the community lends me money for food. In this household, two other men are working. And we have a resourceful lady who picks and cooks wild vegetables."

Having a support network away from home helps the new arrivals to find their feet after the often-traumatic experiences they have been through. But the Rohingya host community is struggling to cope with limited resources.

Like other urban refugees in Malaysia, the Rohingya have no access to legal work but are allowed to work in the informal sector. They tend to perform menial tasks that the local population shuns such as in construction, on plantations and recycling scrap metal and are vulnerable to exploitation because of their dire situation and uncertain legal status.

Hazurrahman does not know how he can continue to care for three dependents with no income of his own. He tells relatives in Myanmar not to come but concedes that he cannot turn them away if they do. "Don't think it's easy here," he said. "I didn't want to come but was forced to flee. Even though I've stayed here a long time, I still have no achievements, I'm still not settled."

Abdul is more hopeful as he believes he has a chance of being resettled to a third country. "I can't help everyone, I have my own family to take care of," he said. "I hope my kids will have a better future if we are resettled. Maybe then we can help the others from there."

*Name changed for protection reasons

By Vivian Tan, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

UNHCR Relief Items Pour into Myanmar

With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

On the outskirts of the city of Yangon – which was also hit by the cyclone – and in the Irrawady delta, some families have been erecting temporary shelters made out of palm leaf thatching. But they desperately need plastic sheeting to keep out the monsoon rains.

Posted on 12 June 2008

UNHCR Relief Items Pour into Myanmar

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

On the outskirts of the city of Yangon – which was also hit by the cyclone – and in the Irrawady delta, some families have been erecting temporary shelters made out of palm leaf thatching. But they desperately need plastic sheeting to keep out the monsoon rains.

Posted on 12 June 2008

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

Myanmar: Olympic Spirit AlivePlay video

Myanmar: Olympic Spirit Alive

The International Olympic Committee and Samsung recently presented sports kits to 20 schools in south-east Myanmar. The lucky children were happy to show off their skills.
By Boat to SafetyPlay video

By Boat to Safety

The recent resurgence in inter-communal violence in western Myanmar, forced hundreds of people to sail to safety on their fishing boats.
Surviving in the City: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Play video

Surviving in the City: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia is a largely urban country, with 60 per cent of the population living in cities. Life for a refugee in Kuala Lumpur is challenging. Refugees cannot work legally and most live in fear of detention, despite having received a refugee card from UNHCR.