Arakan


img_9940.jpgLike most other Arakans from Myanmar, OO tells a similar story of forced labour. This time, the village he was in was divided into three groups and forced to carry rocks at a quarry. They worked for 2 – 3 days at a time and then the next group would have to work in rotation. They usually worked 13 hour days, working from 6 in the morning till 7 at night.

One day, OO had to work very late. It was 10 at night, and after working for 16 hours carrying stones, he was tired, and hungry, and wanted to stop. And so he asked the soldier on duty if he could go back. The soldier turned on him.

“He hit me with a stick and I fell down, cutting my chin. When I was on the ground, he wanted to hit me again”.

OO instinctively picked up a rock and threw it at the soldier, (more…)

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“There were about 40-50 soldiers that came to my village that day. One had stars on his shoulders. Some were not wearing uniforms. They came to see the village headman. The next morning, at around 8, a caller walked around the village shouting out news that the military will take our land”.

There took all of NN’s father’s land – land that he inherited from his mother. Some villagers cried. Some pleaded with the village headman – telling him that it was everything they had. “I remember my grandmother and parents going to the village headman demanding some sort of compensation”. They didn’t get any.

“The headman told us that there is nothing that we can do – they are the military”.

Soon after, NN had to work on the same land that days before was his father’s. Every house had to supply one person. He had to clear the land, build barracks, and plough the land in preparation for planting rice.

“It was hot season, but they didn’t let us rest or drink enough water. There were old women and children”.

So one day, he decided to run away. With some of his friends, they made their way to Rangoon, and then to the border where they crossed over into Thailand. NN soon made it into Malaysia, working as a construction labourer to pay off his broker’s fees.

NN looks much older than he is, with crows feet clearly visible in the corners of his eyes.

“Life is difficult. I have been jobless for four months. I can’t go back because I am afraid I will face forced labour and torture. But staying here, I am in also in danger – of being caught and put into prison and detention centre. Here I can be caned too” – referring to the Malaysian Government’s practice of caning illegal immigrants.

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“My elder sister drowned because of forced labour. She was picking stones from the river. Every house has a quota of stones to pick, to be used to build roads”.

MM went on to describe big boxes by the side of the river. Each house had their own box to fill – their quota of river stones.

“That day, she was picking stones in the middle of the river when the tide came in. Water was up to her chest. She was making her way back to the bank but the river bottom was uneven so she went under. The current was very strong. She can swim but she is not a very good swimmer. She drowned”.

“The next morning the soldiers came to look for her. I think they knew she died but acted as if they didn’t know”. (more…)

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“Last year, during the water festival, I went for a drink with my friend who is a policeman. I asked him if he knows anything about the Daewoo gas exploration off the Arakan coast. I was just asking, but he got angry and left”.

“A few days later, they (the police) came looking for me, but I was out fishing. When I came back, my wife was waiting for me at the jetty and told me not to come back to my house. I ran away and hid at a friend’s house. I asked my cousin to take care of my farm in my absence. He gave me money and I ran to Rangoon”.

“But I was too afraid so I ran to the border and then ran into Thailand”.

KK’s fears were justified.

“When I was in Thailand, I called my wife. She told me that the police came to our house again and asked where I was. When my father told them he didn’t know, they hit him”.

“Hit! Hit! Hit!” KK said, his hand going up and down every time he repeated the word.

“My father is an old man. A few days later, he coughed up blood. They rushed him to the hospital but he died on the way…” (more…)

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As the bus joined the main road, my interpreter pointed at the lone man talking on his handphone by the side of the road and shouted “my friend!” I pressed the bell and a few seconds later, we were shaking hands with this man. He smiles, but then looks around, mumbling something about a police car, and immediately crosses the road, walking fast.

He acts like a man being hunted. JJ scans both sides of the road, alternating between looking far ahead and then behind his shoulder. He does this continuously, and as we approach the bus stop on the other side of the road, he veers off into a laterite side road and hides in the palm oil plantation, refusing to wait for the bus at the shelter.

“The police car, the one with the lights on top and with the siren, they will stop me. (more…)

FF is one of the community leaders from the Arakan community. I was greatly surprised that one day, when I was brandishing around my 2nd hand digital SLR camera at one of the refugee events, he came up to me and pronounced proudly that he used to be a photographer back in Myanmar. With glee he borrowed my camera and started to go around snapping pictures left, right and centre, carefully composing his pictures, looking at the light and angle, and sometimes telling people how to pose. I thought to myself, how did this photographer end up seeking refuge in my country?

His journey here to Kuala Lumpur and the circumstances leading to it were quite unfortunate. (more…)

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“My daughter is at school. I want to send her money for her education. So one day she could become a teacher or a nurse. I want her to have a good life. A nice life”.

 

At 38, II has been away from his country for less than 2 years. In Arakan State where he hails from, he used to farm rice and tobacco in his village. I was sure he must have migrated for a very good reason. I mean, to leave behind a farm planted with rice and a cash crop. And at 38, I was quite sure that he would have already been married with children. What made him leave behind everything at such an age? His farm, his family, all that he had.

He ran away, he says, because “they came to look for new soldiers”. (more…)

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