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Myanmar Muslims Struggling for Survival in Malaysia

Myanmar Muslims Struggling for Survival in Malaysia



By Kazi Mahmood, IOL Correspondent

KUALA LUMPUR, October 10 ( – It was a hectic day at a car washing center in this metropolitan Malaysian city with nine workers working hard to get the job done properly for meager earnings.

They all hail from Myanmar’s Rohingya, a sect of Muslims who have been left on their own to survive in the new "concrete jungle" of Malaysia, escaping oppression and abuses in their motherland.

"We came here since we were small, refugees from Myanmar. We crossed borders illegally with our parents, at least with those who survived the terror from the Myanmar government against the Rohingyas in the 1970s and 1990s," Abdul Majeed told

His colleague Abdul Salaam can now make a living after years of austerity and hard times in Myanmar.

"I am not ashamed to do this job; this is what I can do here to survive without asking for aid or assistance from organizations or from people. I have gone through the worst when I was a small boy," he said.

During the Friday prayers, Myanmar Muslim women clad in Malay traditional dresses would be seen accompanied with their children, begging for alms outside the major mosques in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the two states in Malaysia where the Myanmar Muslims are mostly concentrated.

They are also to be seen in parts of Penang, which is an island state in Malaysia.

Most of them come to Malaysia after crossing the borders from Thailand to seek refugee status in the fast track Muslim country.

Rohingyas are the aboriginal inhabitants of Myanmar’s Arakan. Islam spread in the region at the bbeginning of the 7th century when merchants from the Arab, Moorish, and Mughal areas began to settle in the territory.

The Arakan region was ruled by independent kingdoms until the region came under the control of the Burmese in the 18th century.

Following the third Anglo-Burmese war late in the same century, the British took control of Burma (now called Myanmar).

When Burma gained its independence in 1948, the North Arakan Muslim League engaged in armed attacks in futile efforts to secede and be part of East Pakistan.

Clampdowns by Myanmar authorities forced Muslims to set up armed resistance groups.

Today these groups have been reduced to a few militants fighting under the umbrella of the self-styled Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO).

Myanmar Horrors

Abdul Majeed, who lives in a rented house in the Ampang area, had enough of hard times living as an illegal immigrant in Malaysia, but what really condoles him is that he escaped the hell in Myanmar.

He along with his well-to-do family were forced to flee their homeland, escaping crackdowns by Myanmar police, otherwise they would have been slaughtered like many others.

"I would keep all the children together and would move from one area after my parents are arrested. Most of the times, I witness the arrest by the immigration police in the streets of Masjid India or Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, but am powerless and I hide and watch. It is so heart breaking," said tearful Abdul Majeed.

According to unofficial statistics, up to 3.5 million Rohingyas were displaced or forced to move out of Arakan due to terror campaigns by the Myanmar military and police.

"I have survived ethnic cleansing and systematic murder at the hands of the Myanmar secret police and I have survived the harsh life in Malaysia where no one really helps. Only a few Chinese people would help us in Kuala Lumpur but they too are frightened since we do not have official papers," said Mukhtar, who sells books in the streets of Masjid India.

"What we are witnessing in Myanmar is true oppression. In Myanmar, Muslims are being pulled out of mosque by the military at the middle of as’Salaat (prayer) and sent to camps to join forced labour," said another refugee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Muslim Apathy

According to the Muslim Minority Affairs (MMA), a department affiliated to the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM), there are 10,000 Rohingya Muslims in Malaysia, most of them from the Rangoon region.

Those hailing from Arakan are mostly located in Bangladesh.

"Arakan is located in the North Western Province of Myanmar and is considered the land of the Rohingyas. It is not recognized by the Myanmar regime, which has been after the Muslims as early as 1942 when more than a 100,000 of them were massacred by the Burmese Independent Movement hand in hand with local Monks and Buddhists," said Ullah, a Rohingya volunteer with the MMA.

"The Rohingya Diaspora is little known to the Muslim world which has showed little concern to the fate of their brothers and sisters and even the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is dormant on this issue," lamented Salim Mukthar.

The crisis of the Rohyingas deepened in the 1970s, when Myanmar authorities started nationwide survey, which gave the Myanmar citizenship only to those who proved that they lived in the country since 1824.

Some 200,000 Muslims were displaced en masse and ran into bordering Bangladesh where they lived in camps set up by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).   Source: IslamOnline