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Rohingya in transit long for a life of dignity

Mustafa K Anuar catches a glimpse of the tremendous challenges confronting Rohingya refugees in Malaysia.

Used in the most spartan way possible, the physical space in the rented house functions as a community centre that serves the basic needs of Rohingya refugees in the area around Butterworth.

Packages of foodstuff fill the centre of the house. Seated in one corner on red plastic chairs were Rohingya refugees Zabidee, 28, and Mahfooz, 34 (not their real names), who were there to help prepare the distribution of the packages, which were donated by the Malaysian public.

Mahfooz, who has been in a state of transit in Malaysia for the past 14 years, pointed out that the foodstuff was meant for Rohingya victims of the recent floods in Penang.

This is partly because the state government did not provide the needed assistance to these people, who are already subjected to a harsh existence daily.

In recalling the harrowing experience of the Rohingya community in Myanmar, Mahfooz insisted that it was wrong to label – as often asserted by researchers, the media and certain international bodies – members of the community as “stateless”.

“We had everything in life: house, job, educational opportunities and other necessities.

“But we’ve been robbed of all these, including our land, by the Myanmar regime.

“Before 1982, everyone was equal in Myanmar, including the Rohingya.”

In October 1982, the Burmese Citizenship Law was instituted, and with the exception of the Kaman people, most Muslims in the country were denied an ethnic minority classification, and hence, were refused Burmese citizenship.

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