Listening to Van Vel Thang’s (not his real name) story was like listening to a tourist rate the various hotels he’s been to in Malaysia. Only the “hotels” were the various detentions centres that he was detained and shuffled back and forth over a period of 7 months.

Vel Thang was arrested by the Immigration in Batu Pahat, Johor in December last year. He holds a UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) card, which was why, he explained, “I didn’t run away. They stopped me before, at KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre – a shopping mall) but I had a UNHCR card so they let me go”. In Batu Pahat, the Immigration people asked me “Do you have an identity card?” I said no. “Do you have a passport?”. I said no. I told them I am a refugee and I have a UNHCR card. They told me to “follow us to the station – you can tell your story there”.

At the station, they told me that “if UNHCR comes tonight, you can go”. It was Saturday, and when we called the UNHCR hotline, they told us that their office is closed and that they can only send people on Monday.” Batu Pahat is a town in Johor, whilst the only UNHCR office is in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur – two states away.

They were sent to Pekan Nenas detention centre, where they spent 57 days in detention. “Nobody can visit us for the first 14 days, so we waited for that period to be over, but the UNHCR never came. The Immigration officers told us that the UNHCR did not want to come, but when we called the UNHCR, they told us that the Immigration are not letting them in. “We went on a hunger strike for 10 days”. (more…)



“They told me to take my clothes off. They told me to face a wooden rack. They spread my arms and then tied both my hands to the wooden rack. The person who whipped me was big and tall. More than 6 feet tall. He held this long cane”, and with this FA spread his arms as wide as possible to show how long it was. “The first whip, it was so painful that I fell unconscious. But the second whip, my bottom was numb by then, so I didn’t feel so much pain. I took 2 weeks to recover from the whipping.”

Tha Peng Ling (not his real name) still has the scars from the whips and the months he spent in prison and detention centre. He developed gastritis in detention, and now he tires very easily when walking. Tha Peng thinks there is something wrong with his lungs. After his whipping, he also easily forgets things.

And now, he is always afraid.

The 2 lashings of the cane was part of Tha Peng’s sentence for being without proper documents in Malaysia. In total, he spent 4 months in prison and 1.5 months in a detention centre before being deported to the Thai border where he made his way back to Malaysia after borrowing money from friends to pay an agent.

“My father was a teacher in Myanmar. In 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi visited our village. My father was very active in organising her visit. Later one of our relatives who works with the Government warned my father that he will be arrested. That night, we locked up our house and walked away into the night. We walked from village to village for 7 days until we reached Mizoram in India.”

“My father and mother, and my wife and two children are still in India, but I want to stay here. I want to be registered as a refugee with the UNHCR.”

From the International Medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders)


I grew up in Chin state in the west of Myanmar. Things were very difficult for my family because – like many people – we were frequently forced to work for the military. My parents had a small farm but it was hard to make a living. They were often made to work on military construction projects, so were not able to farm the land. People who refused to do military labour were arrested.

When I was about 15, we moved to Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. I went to college there and started studying for a degree in psychology, but after two years the authorities closed the university down because of student demonstrations. When I found out that the Bible School offered some courses in counselling, I decided to continue my education there. The university opened again two years later and I considered going back, but in the end decided that it wasn’t actually worth it. I could see that many of my friends from the Chin ethnic group simply found it impossible to get a job, even with a degree.

There is a huge amount of discrimination against Chin people – if you are not from the Burmese ethnic group it is extremely difficult to have a career. You have to convert from Christianity to Buddhism if you want to move up.

In 2003, I became Youth Director at a church, doing community work and providing counselling for kids and young adults. The church was illegal in the eyes of the government and we had to be very careful. More and more Chin people started moving from Chin state to Yangon, so our community was growing all the time.

The problems started in 2004, when I took a group of kids on a camping trip to the countryside. One of the kids was run over by a military motorbike. The law says that if a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle, the driver has to pay the medical costs. When the military refused to pay, I wrote a letter to complain that nobody was taking responsibility. They almost arrested me. The Church Pastor advised me not to take things further because he was worried about the consequences for my safety. The military took my address in Yangon, but let me go home.

The following year, I wanted to run a residential activity camp for kids in the church. The Church leaders were worried, because they knew that the military were watching the building.

On the second day of the camp, I went out shopping to get some supplies. Whilst I was out, the military raided the building and arrested the Church Pastor and four others. Somebody managed to call me and tell me what had happened. They told me to hide, because the military knew that I was involved and had my address. I hid at a friend’s place for a week, during which time the military went to my family home and threatened my mum.

I just didn’t know what to do. (more…)


“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…)