Land Confiscation


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sleeping in the jungle is better

This small footpath, it seems, led to nowhere. Hardly wide enough for one person, it is overgrown with grass taller than me, on both sides. The path snakes onwards and sometimes we had to crouch to get through the places overgrown with creepers. In this bush labyrinth, are scattered some fifteen huts. These huts, built from pieces of discarded wood, plywood and plastic sheeting, are hardly any bigger than the tent that I use to go camping with. They are built on short stilts to raise the floor of the wet ground, but the roof has to be lower than the grass in order to be invisible. I had to crawl into them.

This is where Nai Bali Thow, now pushing on 39, sleeps with his wife and 15 year old son. This is where they sleep, every single night for the past 2 years. They are too afraid of raids from the police and immigration to sleep anywhere else.

“Is sleeping in the jungle better than staying in your village back in Mon State?”

Yes!” Nai Bali said. “Yes!” Nodding his head at the same time. (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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“Before leaving, I told my wife not to worry. I told her that if I find work I will send money back. But it has been five months and I haven’t been able to earn enough to send any money back”.

At 39, GG is one of the older refugees from Myanmar, and like some of the other Arakans his age, he doesn’t remember his age, or when he was born. We had to look at his registration card to know that he was born in October of 1968.

GG is tall and thin, with curly hair and a signs of a receding hairline. He talks animatedly, his language fast, fluent and unbroken. Most of the people from his state are much younger, often fleeing forced labour and conscription into the army, so I wonder what brought him here.

Not knowing our calender, he struggles to tell us the month and day, but we managed to pin the year and season down – 1993, during the dry season, after they had harvested the rice. That was when the Secretary for Land came to his village to check land ownership. So he told everyone to give him their land deeds so he could check them. But there was a reason behind that. The military wanted to build a new base and thus wanted land. So the Secretary for Land told the head of the village that some of the land will be confiscated by the Government for this purpose. He then left, taking the land deeds with him. It was shocking news for the villagers. Some wept. Some got very angry but there was nothing they could do. The next day, nobody went to work – everybody was in a state of shock.

That was the day GG’s family lost all their land. (more…)