Tuesday, April 25, 2017


By Mansor Puteh

From Arakan or Rakhine in Myanmar, they had to transverse through Myanmar to the border and cross into Thailand where they were taken to the Malaysian border for a while before slipping into Malaysia and taken into a van by runners.

Some got caught but many managed to arrive at their destination and ending up being registered as refugees by UNHCR whose office is in Jalan Belamy, behind the old Istana Negara.

But life in Malaysia is better to all of them, compared to living in Arakan or Rakhine where many of their relatives and friends are still there.

So even though they may be refugees in Malaysia, but they are still affected by what is still happening to those who they had left behind not knowing what would happen to them.

I got to know some of them in Cheras and also Balakong in Selangor, where they lived in a small community of refugees and working and doing whatever they could to provide for their families, as well and as quiet as they could and having to send money to their family in Arakan and Rakhine.

I got to know more when they gathered for Friday prayers and also gatherings for Hari Raya Puasa and weddings, with me acting as the videographer.

Many times I would take them in my cars to go places or write letters to the authorities for them.

Of course some of them were later surprised to see me on television, so they would know what I was doing. Initially they felt suspicious that I might be somebody from The Hill…

So when they returned to Malaysia for a brief visit, using a special pass, if they have not got their American passport, they prefer to speak in English if they are stopped by the Malaysian police.

This is how they thought they could avoid from having to create suspicions on whether the documents they had showed were not fake, by pretending not to speak in Melayu, and they are from America, as permanent residents.   

They have told me a lot of things that they experienced in their villages in Arakan and in Malaysia and some nasty things…

But I have not got around to do something about it, like coming up with a documentary on them.

Then one by one they left the country, with the help of UNHCR, for resettlement in America mostly. But a few had opted to go to Denmark and other countries.

I had told some of them to tell me when they were flying out of KLIA to go to America so I could also book a ticket on the same flight and be with them to record video. 

I managed to continue to communicate with them by Whatsapp and phone, and finally met them at their apartments in Salt Lake CityUtahSan AntonioTexas, and Los AngelesCaliforniaNew York CityNew York; and got to meet more Rohingyas who had also been resettled in America.

All of them speak good Bahasa Melayu, despite having just been in the country few years, with some of their children who only speak in this language, and now starting to learn how to speak in English when they get old enough to enter school here.

I met some of them at the masjid in Inglewood in Los Angeles for the zohor prayers and saw one of them even wearing the baju Melayu top.

I had also bought two baju Melayu top to give to them, when they asked me to get them when I was still in Malaysia.

One thing that I can say is that none of them would be pushed to the streets like the so many American and Iraq war veterans and other derelicts who had chosen to live in the streets.

And there are many tents that they had erected on the sidewalks near the Greyhound station in Los Angeles which I did not see before.

The Rohingyas had miserably failed to get education when they were in Malaysia; but there were a few who got some and there is a young girl who managed to get a string of ‘As’, but who could not pursue her education.

She then managed to be resettled to America with her parents and younger sister. They are now registered at a local school which is a walking distance from their apartment.

After only two years of being relocated or resettled in America and working, some are able to buy their own cars and get driving licenses.

But some who had just arrived felt unwanted and wanted to return to Malaysia. This is a temporary feeling some of them have especially when they had not got used to living in a totally new environment, and having to communicate in English.

They mix with themselves most of the time, so there was no need for them to speak in English much, except for their children who go to school and have to speak in English so over time they are able to speak English with a natural American accent. 

I asked one of them, who I had earlier met in Cheras to remember how to say ‘Wrong number’ because I knew he like the others like him would get stray calls from locals.

And true enough someone called and he said, ‘Wrong number’ and smiled because he had managed to communicate with a local American who definitely would not know he had just spoken – in English – with a stranger who had come a long way from a country that had been devastated that forced him and his friends and relatives to seek some peace in Malaysia and now permanently in America.

But one never knows what they feel deep inside of them, because they would often call their relatives and friends in Malaysia and Arakan, speaking in their language and keep up with the development in their state, and watching YouTube videos and reports on the internet on the continued persecution of the Rohingyas. 


Ajay said...

Dear Encik Mansor,

I was very interested to read your blog. We are currently in the middle of launching a book on Tunku Abdul Rahman. This also has an audio-visual section at the launch.

May I ask if you still have the footage shot in Cambridge, or your interviews with Tunku, or the Residency Years documentary?

These are all so, so interesting! In fact I am going to Cambridge on Friday to (hopefully) record a video message from the Bursar of St Catharine's.

Hope to make contact with you, Encik Mansor.

My email address is wharflands@gmail.com

Best regards,


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