Naw Lwe Wah (not her real name), a 42 year old Karen mother, has been living in Malaysia for 10 years. Her husband, a government official back in their village, fled Myanmar 5 years earlier to Malaysia because he was involved in the pro-democracy movement and was in danger of being prosecuted. What is special is that Lwe Wah is unlike many other refugees who go from place to place in search of employment or safety. With her family, she has been staying in one single place all these years – a small wooden hut constructed out of pieces of discarded plywood and planks and roofed with zinc. A house that had no running water or electricity. They moved houses once, from a nearby area that was “always damp and full of snakes” to this one behind a factory in the outskirts of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
Lwe Wah can count on one hand the number of times she has been out of this area. “We went out to watch movies once when my youngest daughter (now 7) was about 2 years old because she was complaining and wanted to go out“. And she went to a hospital to deliver this very daughter. But apart from that, Lwe Wah who is registered with the UNCHR as a refugee and has to a card to prove it, is too afraid to go out. “They are many policemen and they stop us and ask for money“, Lwe Wah says. “I hear RELA does not care if you have a UNHCR card or not – they will arrest you anyways.”
Her fears are not unfounded. Her husband fell ill with TB. He fought his illness for 5 long years before he finally succumbed to it last year. “At first, we thought it was nothing, just normal sickness. But he got worse. We wanted to go to a clinic to get medicine, but on the way the police stopped us and took all our money – the money we had for the clinic.” At this point Lwe Wah started to weep, thinking about how her husband might have been saved, might still be alive today, had they reached medical help.
She still remembers that day clearly. “It was 2 in the morning. My husband wanted to go to the toilet but he was too weak, so he asked me for help. As I was trying to pick him up, he said he couldn’t breathe. He vomited a lot of blood. He died in my arms. At that time there were a lot of dogs howling. Whenever I hear dogs howl, I still remember this“.
Lwe Wah didn’t even go to her husband’s funeral because she was too afraid of being caught. She did not have the chance to give her husband his last rites. One of the people who arranged for her husband’s funeral was there. He added “We lodged a police report after his death, but when the police came they asked money from her. At first they asked for RM3000. Only after we passed the phone to the UNHCR office did the police stop asking. Before, sometimes when we didn’t pay the police would go to the funeral and check everybody for papers. Just to be on the safe side, we advised her not to go“.
We continued to talk about her husband, how he was, what he like was, what he liked… As a requiem, the story of her husband, in her words, is documented here, as the story of Saw Lay Doh Wah.
Although Lwe Wah continues to be affected by her husband’s death, a person who she clearly loves with all her heart, she now worries about her youngest daughter. “My daughter cannot go to school here. I don’t care where I get resettled. All I want is to live in peace and give my child a good education.”