From the International Medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders)
We left Myanmar in 2003 and worked for a short while in Thailand. But we were scared that the police might catch us, so we decided to come to Malaysia. We found an ‘agent’ – someone who knows how to get people over the border – and he drove us into Malaysia. We hid in the back seat of the car.
At first I worked at a construction site in the jungle near Alor Setar. Then we came to Kuala Lumpur and found a place to live near a wholesale market. We share it with quite a lot of other people from Myanmar – people come and go but there are normally about six of us living in the place.
Our daughter is two and Fatima is nine months pregnant with our second child. We have a small room for the three of us and we share the kitchen, toilet and shower with everyone else.
Fatima stays in the flat most of the day, washing, cleaning and cooking. I found work at the wholesale market, making roti bread outside a restaurant.
In 2005 we went to UNHCR – the UN organisation responsible for the welfare of refugees – to ask to be registered. They gave us both a letter saying that confirmed we were persons of concern to UNHCR.
In November last year, I was working at the restaurant when there was an immigration raid. I wasn’t worried because I had the letter from UNHCR so thought that there wouldn’t be a problem. But even though I showed it to the immigration officials, they took me to the police lock-up. I stayed in detention for a month.
Finally they told me that there would be a court hearing. I phoned Fatima and she contacted UNHCR to ask them to come. But unfortunately they didn’t show up.
When they read my name in court, they said that I was an “undocumented Indonesian”. I told them that they were wrong – that I am from Myanmar and not Indonesia, and that I had given my papers to the immigration official. But they said that there was no record of the document. I was sentenced to three months in Semenyih detention centre.
I was also lashed with a whip as a punishment. It was extremely painful. I couldn’t walk afterwards. I was bleeding but they didn’t give me any medication. I just had to lie down until I could walk again.
At the detention centre, everybody slept on the floor. There were about 400 of us. When they turned out the lights it was impossible to sleep because it was so crowded. They gave us very little rice and we didn’t even eat twice a day. There were seven toilets, but some of them were not working and they were in a bad condition. When the water ran low, we were not able to shower.
When people got sick, they just gave them a Panadol. Two if they were lucky. There were weekly medical clinics, but it was up to the guards to decide who was allowed to go and who not.
I was released from that place two days ago. I was worried, because I have heard many stories about what happens to people when they are deported. If you are handed over to the Thai authorities, and they hand you over to the Myanmar authorities, you might be killed.
60 of us were put in two buses and driven north to the Thai border. It was about 11 o’clock at night when we arrived. The immigration officers told us to get off the bus and cross a stream. On the other side, there was a group of people traffickers waiting for us, armed with sticks and metal weapons. Some of them were Malaysian, others were from Thailand and Myanmar.
They made us sit down on the ground in lines of five. Then they asked us who had friends who could pay for us to go back into Malaysia. About 20 people raised their hands to say they could pay. We were separated from the rest of the group and taken to one side.
I didn’t really see what happened to the others, but I heard people being beaten up. As my group left, they were making the people who couldn’t pay walk one by one along the jungle path – I don’t know where they were going. Maybe to be sold or killed.
The human traffickers called the number that I had given them of my friend back in Kuala Lumpur. They asked him if he could pay 1,600 Ringgit and he said yes. Then I was put in a car with eight other people and driven to Kota Bahru.
There were local Malaysians waiting there to take us in cars back to Kuala Lumpur. Once we got here, we were locked up in a block of flats and they called our friends to come and pay for our release. My friend came with the money and I was allowed to go.
I saw my wife and daughter for the first time in three months.
Now we are in a difficult situation and I am very worried. I owe my friend 1,600 Ringgit, but I no longer have my letter from UNHCR so I am scared to go back to work. I don’t know how to get another document from them. The judge told me that if I get caught again in Malaysia I will be lashed four times a day and will have to spend a year in prison.
Fatima is due to give birth in two weeks. She has been going to a clinic run by MSF every week for the last two months for check-ups.
She will deliver at the government hospital, but I don’t know how we are going to pay the hospital costs.