Unsafe Harbor
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, October 20, 2018


Unsafe Harbor

By Violet Cho/Kuala Lumpur SEPTEMBER, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.9

(Page 2 of 2)

only the most extreme circumstances would have compelled this dignified man to reveal those humiliating photos to a young Burmese woman such as myself.

Before dawn on the morning of my departure, as I waited for the bus to the airport, I received a text message informing me that two friends who had introduced me to Burmese refugees during my visit had been arrested in raids conducted just hours before, along with 150 others.

One of the detained men had been punched in the face for telling the Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia, or RELA, officers (a vigilante group used by the Malaysian immigration department) attempting to arrest him that he was a refugee and had the right to legal protection.

Maybe in other places that would be true, but not in Malaysia.

After I arrived at the airport, one of the detained refugees called me from the RELA temporary detention center. He was hiding in a bathroom because detainees were not allowed to make phone calls.

He told me that he was not concerned for himself. As an activist, he has grown accustomed to being arrested and deported. He speaks Bahasa Malaysia and a little Thai and can handle himself, he told me over the phone. But he was worried about the others, some of them pregnant women and children. What will happen to them? he asked.

It is sad enough that, as Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said, Burmese people live in fear in their own country. But to live in fear in a country that they have come to for shelter from oppression is sadder still.

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