Home Web Specials 2008 Web Specials Refugees: Silent voices in our midst

Refugees: Silent voices in our midst

Follow us on our Malay and English WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube channels.

refugeesMost of us have never met a refugee, let alone heard them speak for themselves. Our newspapers ignore them. And we rarely see them in the open. Here we present two refugees who tell us about their experiences in Burma and the circumstances that forced them to flee to Malaysia. We have only edited for spelling and punctuation; so you get to hear them speaking in their own voices.


My Name is Maha. I am a Refugee. I am a human being. Burma is ruled by a cruel, violent, repressive military junta, I come from one of the Burmese indigenous groups. I have been here since 2005. In my state there are many soldiers, we are subjected to forced Labor, we are taken as porters for no pay, our farms and land are confiscated, and we are forced to reallocate our homes and sometimes whole village.

There is forced conscription into the army; there is religions persecution against Christians; our ethnic language and culture are repressed; we are not allowed to freely celebrate our culture; we have limited access to education and health care. We do not have enough food; electricity is very limited.

My village is a small village. I stay with my family without our father because my father has been arrested by Burmese military junta for selling wood in February 1998. After 1995, we cannot celebrate our New Year or our culture. They called us for forced labour on April 2004. They confiscated our farms to replace our crops with their coffee project. We were forced to grow coffee for no pay.

READ MORE:  Allow migrants and refugees to flourish in their own countries

So I asked for some wages for our family consumption; the soldiers beat me and two friends. They are all three soldiers but they have guns and my friends helped us by fighting them back, and then we took their guns and ran to the jungle. We threw their guns into the water at the wilderness. We all wanted to go back to our small village as we were worried about our family in case they also faced violence from the soldiers but then they took hunting dog and tried to find us. We all ran for three day without food. We were all very frightened on our journey as, if they found us, they would kill us; so we ran to Thai border and began working there, and then we went to Chiang Mai in Thailand.

We thought if the police caught us they would send us to Burma’s soldiers; so we decided to move to Malaysia using people brokers. We have to pay people brokers between RM1,000 and RM2,000 to bring us here and the journey they take us two weeks. (On occasion, people come by private transport and only have to pay for fuel costs).

But in Malaysia we are unable to work, have very little access to education and have no peace of mind. We are not recognised as refugees and are classed as illegal migrant workers. We live in fear of Rela and police operations, and our physical and mental health suffers greatly. If we are arrested we are detained for at least two weeks and then deported to the Thai border. There we end up in the hands of people brokers and if we cannot pay at least RM1,800 (the price we must pay to return to Malaysia), we are sold to the Thai fishing-boats and the women are sold into prostitution.

READ MORE:  Being 'other': Marginalised identities and communities in Malaysia's complex histories, present and future

We also face being whipped as part of our punishment for being undocumented. This leaves great mental scars as well as physical ones. We are unable to go back to Burma as we face arrest upon return and imprisonment. We want to live freely and peacefully in Malaysia; we want the right to work and have access to education. Eventually, we would like to go home to Burma when there is a regime change.

From Mr. Maha


Forced Labour

I am from Myanmar Country. I am 16 years old. My father is farmer and my mother is housewife. I lived at Maw Hpawng town in Kachin State.

In the year of 2006 , the whole village was called to work to make the street to the way to army camp near the village from every house each person. At my home, my father was sick and he could not able to go to the work place where the army camp. Instead of my father, I went to work there. I carried stones and dug for the street. I cleaned the bushes and cut the trees.

After one week, I was sick with malaria and I was seriously ill. I was forced to go work although I was sick. I was slapped by soldiers and got tortured as I had to kneel down on the ground for hours. I could not able to bear all kinds of their patterns of torture. The soldier asked me to work again. I refused to work that’s why they tied my both hands with nylon rope. I was hunger and thirst. There is no one to provide food and give me water about three days.

READ MORE:  Refugees: The right to work

After that, I tried and escaped from the army camp; if I did not fled from the army camp, I would be killed or died. Therefore I decided to run out of my country.

Now I am in Malaysia. I am afraid of some gangsters. They asked me money at the bus stop. I said to them that I do not have money; then they started to kick me out very badly.

I would like to request you to kindly concern for me and to withdraw Rela’s power to conduct raids and to arrest refugees which directly affect our community. If you could help me, I would be very much appreciated.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
Support our work by making a donation. Tap to download the QR code below and scan this QR code from Gallery by using TnG e-wallet or most banking apps:
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x