Military Persecution


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I met Hussein (not his real name) at one of the handful of mobile clinics serving refugees. He came to get treatment for his leg, which was swollen. He was walking with a limp, and had his ankle bandaged. He passed me a piece of paper that the doctor had written on – it said, simply, “Rest”.

He needs to rest his leg for it to heal, but he cannot afford to. “I have no money. No rest – if I rest, I die, baby die.” Hussein, now 50, goes on to describe what he does as a living. “Tonight, people sleep, I go jalan-jalan (the Malay word that means to travel for recreational purposes). I go pick bottle, carton, plastic. I buy bicycle hand second for 80 ringgit. I go around for 5 hours. I go to restaurants, garbage bins, to place where people throw bottles. 1 day I get 20 ringgit, 15 ringgit, 10 ringgit.”

“My baby want milk. 1 can is 20 ringgit. Pampers. 1 box is 30 ringgit. My baby, she doesn’t know about money.”

A refugee himself, Hussein adopted a baby girl soon after he arrived in Malaysia. An Indonesian woman he knew got herself pregnant (not with him) and wanted to abort, so he told her to give him the baby instead – that he will take care of the baby. “Her name is Fatimah, my mother name. I love my baby. I take care of her, she 1 kilo. Now she 12 kilo,” Hussein beamed proudly, gesturing with his hands to indicate how big she has grown.

Hussein left behind a wife and 3 children in Iran. “My children same you age,” he says. “In Iran, I have wife, I have house, I have garden, I have shop, I have car. Very normal life. One day, I go to mountain, take honey, 18 km from house. 2 person have gun speak with me – “please help me, I want to go there”. It 4 pm. After 5km, police roadblock. There was shooting. I go down from car and run away. After that, police come and see my car. They know it Hussein car. I forget about home, about children, about honey, about car, I run to Iraq. Otherwise, I will be same like Saddam Hussein – die.” With that Hussein draws an imaginary noose around his neck and pulls it.”

From there he went to Turkey and then to Greece, trying to find a way to go to Australia where his brother lives. The agents there gave him a passport and told him that with this passport, he can go to New Zealand. After two weeks, they said, he can take a flight to Australia. He paid USD10,000 for his passage. The agents dumped him in Malaysia. In Malaysia, two people, pretending to help him, robbed him of everything he had. “Take bag, passport, money, ring, all.” For 4 days he slept outside the UNHCR office before some Iranian people took pity on him and brought him back to their house. Two weeks later, he received a bank card from his brother in Australia. Slowly, things improved.

But his brother stopped supporting him a few months ago, accusing Hussein of forgetting about UNHCR and just spending money. That he has his own family to take care of. Hussein went to the UNHCR for assistance, and is clearly frustrated that he isn’t getting the help that he thinks he deserves.

“Every day I go. 1 month I go 30 days. Every time I go, they don’t say hello. They say why you here? They want to give me 200 ringgit. But my house rent already 250 ringgit. I not asking for money. Just give me house and food. Yesterday they gave me letter, go to hospital. But hospital ask for me thirty ringgit. I no have money!”

His frustration boils over. He looks down for a moment. Then he lifts his head and looks me squarely in the eyes “I like ice”, he says. “I slowly slowy melt. Why wait? One day I take petrol and “chick”.” He makes the sound of the imaginary lighter he holds in his hands.

But after a while, Hussein’s mood improved, and he puts his life in perspective. Taking a small piece of paper on the table, he drew a big inverted “U” with his pen. “Life is like this. A mountain. I am here now”, he says, drawing a circle halfway up the mountain. The then continues to trace his path up and mountain, and then down again. “On way down, life will be easy. I am afraid I die before get to top.” But his last sentence was no longer laced with fear or despair. He said it half jokingly. Buried all this while by his frustration and anger, the real Hussein was starting to emerge.

“Slowly-slowy come out sun”, he says, drawing the sun on the downhill side of the mountain. He looks at me and smiles broadly.

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OA says she is 45 years old, but looks easily 10 years older. Double checking, I ask what year she was born towards the end of the interview. “1965”, she says. So she really is 45. But sitting next to LA who is only 3 years her junior, she looks old enough to be the mother.

Her family and relatives were involved in student’s movement in the late 1980s. As a result, her relatives were arrested and her elder brother died during interrogation. Although she was not involved, the government suspected her of being a sympathiser and the military used to call on her often, day or night.

Leaving behind her husband and four children, she fled to Pattani in Thailand, where for 9 years she worked in a fishing village, cleaning and preparing dried fish. She had lots of skin problems as a result of her job. Hearing from others that there is a UNHCR office in Malaysia, and looking for a better life, she saved money to pay an agent to bring her to Malaysia. The agent sent her to a rubber plantation. She stayed there for six months, earning RM10 a day to collect and process the rubber sap from the trees, working from 8 am to 6 pm. She only worked on the days the rubber needed collecting, which wasn’t every day. There, OA together with 4 other Myanmarese slept on the ground under a plastic sheet. She moved a month ago when she heard about another place from visitors, and is now living with LA. She has been trying to find a job this past month, so now she spends her days helping with the cooking and cleaning.

“Things are better here. I have not had enough sleep for the past 6 months. We were always scared of arrest or robbers. Now I have enough sleep”.

“The most important thing, is security”.

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Par Iang (not her real name) just found out she was pregnant with her fourth child when she had to flee her village in Myanmar. “My brother’s son was arrested and imprisoned for being in the CNF. I visited him at the prison, giving him food and support. After that they accused me of being involved with the CNF. Even though I was pregnant, I had to run”.

In Malaysia, she stayed in a flat together with others from her community. In October of 2006, there was a raid by RELA and the Immigration at 2.30 in the morning. Without papers, she was bundled into a lorry and bought to the police station. HA was six and a half months pregnant. She spent a month in Lenggeng detention centre before being brought to court and sentenced, where she was then transferred to Kajang prison to serve the rest of her sentence. And where she gave birth to her daughter.

Kajang prison had some concessions to pregnant women. They went for pre-natal visits once a week to the Kajang General Hospital, where she eventually gave birth to her baby. After her birth, she was transferred to a cell with less inmates (3 instead of 11), and she now had a bed to sleep on. The doctor gave her milk powder, and the prison guards gave her disposable diapers for her baby. There was a special nurse for babies born in the prison.

But still it was a very difficult time for her. “I had chains while giving birth”, Par Iang gestured and told me how her right hand was handcuffed to the bed during her labour and delivery. “I felt so bad”.

She gave birth at around 6 in the morning, and by 5 pm the same day, she was discharged and back in prison. She was not given extra food before or after her delivery. “When I got back to prison I had no energy. I had no milk from my breasts. After three days, the baby was turning yellow. It was difficult because I cannot speak Malay. Eventually the doctor gave me milk.”

“I cried a lot, thinking about the condition my baby was in. They gave 4 disposable diapers – 2 during the day and 2 at night. It was not enough but I had to keep them on. They didn’t give me soap or extra clothing. My clothes were often soiled with urine and excrement from the baby but I could not change.”

“They look down on Myanmar people so much. They say Myanmarese are crazy people, stupid people. That made me so upset. But I am the mother of my child. I love her, and that gave me the energy and spirit to go on living.”

With the help of the UNCHR, Par Iang was released 3 weeks after giving birth to KA. Recently, her husband made the journey to Malaysia with her other children. They are finally reunited.


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“This is the only way I can help my people.This is my true duty”

Taang Penglam (not his real name) was in his final year at University, studying Chemistry, when he participated in the demonstrations of 1996. Shortly after, all the Universities in Myanmar were closed and he found himself on the run. As a result of his involvement, his father, a government official, was transferred and then forced to resign without pension. His smaller siblings were denied entry to university. And he himself was arrested. Penglam was tortured for 6 months before being sentenced to 6 years in the infamous Kalay prison.

There was no medical treatment and there was not enough food. We had to do a lot of forced labour because the prison was new then. Many people died. My friends all tell me how lucky I am to be alive when they found out that I survived 6 years in Kalay prison.”

Soon after being discharged, he fled, first to Thailand and then to Malaysia. All those years in prison, and the torture, has left permanent effects on Penglam. He used to weight 60kg in college, but now he only weights 54kg has no appetite most of the time. He has difficulty sleeping, and he wakes up every morning with his heart pounding fast. His friends who used to know him during college are surprised at his change.

In university he used to be a student leader. He was a very good speaker and very good at relations with people. Now so many things have changed. His face, his feelings, his voice…” (more…)

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We can only trust in God. When we see our situation now, there is nothing to be happy about.”

One day, about 4 o’clock in the morning, the Chin National Army (CNA) came to our village asking for money from each family. They pointed guns at us, so we collected money and gave it to them. Then, a few hours later the 11 Myanmar army personnel came to our village. They wanted to know why we collected money for the CNA. As the village headman, I had to answer.”

One of the soldiers slapped me so hard I fell unconscious. The other villagers told me that they questioned other people and then left, leaving behind 3 soldiers to bring me back to their camp when I regained consciousness. But soon after, these 3 soldiers left after receiving a radio call. My villagers then took me to a hut in the fields and hid me.”

After this I had to go to court at the nearest town. The police would come to escort me. Later I heard from a friend working at the court that the Government wanted to put me in jail. They called me again to court. Early one morning, I was visiting my neighbour when the police came looking for me. I ran.”

Pu Gaalngam (not his real name) ran away from his village with just the clothes on his back. He never went back to his house or said goodbye to his wife and children. He walked for three days and three nights to another town where he had relatives. He begged for food in the villages he passed through.

At first Gaalngam had no plans to go to Malaysia (more…)