Such sweet and beautiful people, right? The mother (right) works in a garment shop owned by a Chinese. Her employer allows her to bring her child to work and that is good.
Now, for the bitter reality. Not sure about this family but the many kids born here to refugee parents are also stateless. Currently, such children are not accepted into our public schools.
One Rohingya parent told me she is planning to send her kids to southern Thailand. Schools there accept kids with no papers, it seems. Even then, it is limited to primary education, unfortunately.
She reckons it will still be good as her kids can at least read and write some basic stuff. This too, it is not an option for many as they cannot afford to travel as far.
I understand from another lady that UNHCR provides some form of classes. I hope other NGOs will also step in to help such children. The problem is not unique to the Rohingyas, though. It affects all stateless children.
Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 1000, f4, 1/60 sec.
It wasn’t a surprise to hear “Alhamdulillah” or “Praise God” when I spoke to many of the settled Rohingyas today. They do know about the plight of the boat people and feel for them. At the same time, they feel thankful they are in comparatively safe harbour.
On land, all is not as rosy as the smile, as I was to find out. Myanmar’s ethnic groupings are as complex as the nation’s history. Because of persecution, discrimination and inter-communal violence, many Rohingyas won’t admit readily they are one, even here.
When me the stranger asked; many prefer to identify themselves as a Muslim from Myanmar. That is a reasonable reply, considering there are many other Muslim groups in Myanmar, outside the Arakan State.
Picture is of Abdul Rahman, a Rohingya vegetable seller. Wearing the traditional Burmese longyi, he told me I won’t be able to tell ethnicity with certainty, just by looks alone .
According to him, the best way is to make them talk and then discern the dialect. So, that’s how this man was appointed as my personal Rohingya spotter for this part of the neighbourhood.
Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 1250, f4, 1/200 sec.
As the stranded and unwanted Rohingyas come under the international spotlight, I realise many fellow Malaysians are unaware that there are thousands already on our soil, most with valid UNHCR refugee status.
I have photographed the community in the past and decided to visit them again today. On any working day they blend discreetly with other migrant workers such as non-Muslim Burmese, Bangladeshis and Nepalis.
Sunday is when you see them out to pray, play and to socialise among themselves. Photographing them was challenging as many were understandably suspicious of an outsider. They have endured much harassment from every side.
It took much engagement to win their trust before they agree to be photographed or to talk. I usually jot down notes on my phone or on a “Buku 555” paper booklet. Had to go by memory to put them at ease. I think I spoke to more than a hundred people and remembering everything was the challenge.
Picture is of a shop house surau and community centre used by all Muslims from Myanmar, and not just the Rohingyas.
Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 400, f4, 1/200 sec.