Sunday, October 17, 2021

Born and raised in Klang but with no country to call home

Kasim and his siblings have spent their whole lives in their tiny village but know that as refugees, they are still seen as different.

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Kasim was born in the small village of Sungai Pinang in Klang, where he grew up and later got married.

But while he has lived side by side with others from the village his entire life, he has always been aware of an invisible line between him and them.

While those who live in the area are generally friendly to him and his family, some are less so and have no qualms about hurling insults his way every now and then.

“They say I am an outsider and should just go back to my country,” he said in a recent interview with MalaysiaNow.

For Kasim, where this is exactly is a tricky question.

Kasim holds up his birth certificate, issued by the National Registration Department.

Some 30 years ago, his parents fled to Malaysia from Arakan, Myanmar. Their five children were born and raised in Malaysia as they awaited resettlement in a third country or for a safe time to return to their homeland.

Kasim and his siblings all have birth certificates as well as UNHCR cards. However, in terms of nationality, they are considered stateless.

Growing up in a limbo of sorts, they quickly became familiar with the disparaging remarks that would come their way.

For Kasim, some of the most hurtful comments came from those who shared his Muslim faith but who could not see past their social and ethnic differences.

“Hearing our own Muslim brothers differentiate us like that made me sad,” he said.

“When they called me names or said harsh things, I could not do anything about it, so I just took it all in.

“The only thing I could do was to cry by myself.”

Kasim cleans a secondhand vacuum cleaner which he will sell online to make some money.

Malaysia is not a party to the Refugee Convention of 1951, also known as the Geneva Convention, a United Nations treaty which defines who a refugee is and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that take them in.

This means there is no domestic legislation or adopted policies for the identification, registration and protection of refugees and stateless persons.

Refugee children cannot attend government schools or tertiary institutions because they have no official identity such as that provided by Malaysia’s MyKad.

Those who do attend school are generally enrolled in private centres for refugees, mostly set up by Rohingya communities to provide their children with at least a basic education. But these schools often lack long-term funding and rely solely on public donations.

Kasim was able to attend one such school in Klang where he was taught basic subjects like English, mathematics and science.

Once he turned 11, he was enrolled in a religious school near his house.

When asked about his childhood ambitions, he smiled and said he had dreamed of becoming an engineer.

“If given the opportunity, I would like to pursue a higher education and study hard,” he said.

“I loved maths and I aspired to become an engineer.”

But the UNHCR card that he holds offers him no legal protection in the country, and he knows only too well the yawning gap that lies between him and his dreams.

In his current situation, it is difficult for him to even find a job or to obtain a driving licence.

Still, he remains cheerful and positive about the future. With his dreams of becoming an engineer relegated to the back burner, his only hope now is that his own children will be able to live a better life than his.

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