Gratitude – and advice – to Malaysia from a Rohingya refugee
I am a Rohingya refugee in Malaysia. In October 2014, human traffickers kidnapped me from outside the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They covered my face and tied my hands and beat me before putting me on a boat from which I was sold to other traffickers in Thailand. I was held captive in a trafficking camp for 13 days in southern Thailand. I was not given food for five days.
I obtained freedom when Thai police rescued 134 Rohingya people in Ranong province. I was kept by the police in an immigration detention center (IDC). After I was declared a victim of human trafficking, I was sent to an IDC shelter in Songkhla, Thailand.
I escaped from that facility because there was a Rohingya boy who was beaten by shelter officers. After a month, however, I was arrested again and sold again to traffickers. I was kept in a human-trafficking camp in Penang, Malaysia, until I managed to run away.
Finally, in Malaysia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) granted me a refugee card. However, even with a UN refugee card, I cannot work in Malaysia legally and still face many problems. Refugees like myself are at great risk of exploitation in Malaysia including arrest, police harassment, labor abuses, and lack of access to education, medical treatment, and legal protections.
For this reason, since I have been in Malaysia, I have been advocating for my rights as a refugee. But I am grateful that at least I am safe here.
My family fled Myanmar because of the military attacks and decades-long genocidal campaigns against my people.
In Myanmar, my father was taken by the military and forced to work for no pay. He was beaten by soldiers. Rohingya like myself are denied equal access to citizenship rights in Myanmar.
My mother is still in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Rohingya like myself have found safety in Malaysia. For this reason, Malaysia should continue to accept Rohingya refugees. Malaysia’s new government has committed in its Pakatan Harapan manifesto to address transnational human trafficking in Promise 58 and to lead efforts to resolve the Rohingya crisis in Promise 59.
I have been proud of the Malaysian government for standing up for the Rohingya and calling for justice and citizenship rights for my people. Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters, “Malaysia is of the view that the United Nations Security Council should also refer the Rohingya issue to the international judicial process, including the setting up of an international tribunal with a special mandate.”
Further, on November 13, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that Aung San Suu Kyi’s response toward the Rohingya community was “indefensible.” He went on to say that he was “very disappointed” by Suu Kyi’s failure to address and protect the Rohingya.
Malaysia is leading the way in Southeast Asia, but there are areas in which it can continue to work in protecting Rohingya in Myanmar and refugees domestically.
First, Malaysia should protect refugee rights domestically. The new government should work with the UNHCR and find solutions for our community, including legal status.
Malaysia should ratify the United Nations Refugee Convention.
Second, Malaysia should protect and support survivors of human trafficking. In 2015, Malaysian authorities discovered mass graves of Rohingya victims in human-trafficking camps. I was kept in some of the same camps – they were inhuman places. Malaysia should hold perpetrators of human trafficking of the Rohingya accountable.
Third, Malaysia should continue to support the international community to hold the Myanmar military accountable for genocide against the Rohingya. This could include pushing other governments in Southeast Asia to call for accountability and justice for the crimes against my people.
Today, I am still unsure about how long I will be in a state of limbo as a refugee in Malaysia. However, Malaysia should continue to provide access to protections, education, and work until the day we Rohingya can return, have justice, and restored citizenship rights in our homeland of Rakhine state, Myanmar.