Searching For That Glimmer Of Hope: Plight Of Refugee Children

This is the first of a two-part series on refugee children

By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 (Bernama) – “I want to be a doctor,” the soft-spoken Anwar Begum told the writer when she was asked about her ambition.

The girl said the reason was not only that she wanted to provide a better for her parents and siblings but also to help the poor.

This timid girl, the fourth of siblings said she was willing to learn very hard even though it would take her years to realise the dream.

Anwar Begum, 13, knows the trials and tribulations too well as she faces a challenging and an uphill task ahead. There is a also possibility that she may not be able to realise her dream but the girl is clinging to hopes.

The girl also attends ‘school’ because she knows how important education is and she definitely does not want to be like both of her parents who are illiterate.

SHEER DETERMINATION

To say that Anwar Begum’s life has not been a bed of roses is an understatement.

Her father, Md Alam Sidek Ahmad, in his 50’s and mother, Fatimah Zainab, 40, are both Rohingyas who came to Malaysia about 25 years ago looking for a safe haven to escape from religious persecution in their home country, Burma (now Myanmar).

And unlike children of her age, she has only attended ‘school’ this year.

Her three younger siblings, Siti Aishah, 12, Mohd Rashid, 10 and Siti Shahidah, 8, attended the same school, organised by the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) and a non-governmental organisation.

She said her father made the arrangement for her and her siblings to attend the classes.

Despite her lack of early education, Anwar Begum has shown remarkable achievements in her studies. When asked about how she had fared so far in her studies, she shyly took out her last mid-term exam papers and showed them to the writer.

She scored 91 per cent for Science, 100 per cent for English, 89 per cent for Mathematics and 80 per cent for Bahasa Malaysia.

THANKFUL DESPITE MISERIES

When Anwar Begum wakes up from her sleep every morning, she faces an aching reality that her life is full of uncertainties. Nevertheless, Anwar Begum is forever thankful that she and her family are still together and remained as a family.

The girl speaks Bahasa Malaysia well as besides learning the language at school, she also picked up ‘the tongue’ from her Malay friends.

As Anwar Begum spoke, she threw a glance at her sister, Siti Salimah who is six years old. Salimah underwent a heart operation at the National Heart Institute (IJN) early this year and the cost was borne by the UNHCR and several charitable organisations.

The little girl also suffers from a minor form of Down Syndrome.

Anwar Begum maybe only 13 years old, but she knows by being the eldest in the family, she shoulders a heavy responsibility to help her mother with the house apart looking after her younger siblings.

Her father is sometimes bed-ridden due to diabetes and hypertension.

Anwar Begum said her family’s poverty had pushed her to do well in her studies even though the school that she goes to is not like the other schools in Malaysia.

Her father used to be a vegetable trader in their home land before fleeing the country with her mother to the Thai border where they did odd jobs to save enough money to continue their journey to Malaysia.

After 25 years living as refugees in Malaysia, the couple has not regretted their decision to leave their homeland and despite the bleak future, they are forever grateful for at least their children are in a safe country.

UNHCR CARD

All of Anwar Begum’s siblings were born in Malaysia. The family can be considered lucky as they all have the UNHCR refugee card even though the card does not prevent them from being arrested and deported.

Anwar Begum’s elder brother, Abdul Salam was detained twice and sent to detention depot before being deported to the Thai border.

The first time, he was sent to the Lenggeng Detention Depot in Negeri Sembilan. After he was deported to the Thai border, the family paid about RM1,500 to get him released from a Thai agent who claimed to have bought him for slavery.

When he was arrested and deported the second time, the family had no money to pay the requested amount of RM2,000.

Abdul Salam was then sent to a detention depot in Melaka and then sent to the Thai border. The family claimed he was sold to a Thai agent and sent to work as a ‘slave’ in a vegetable plantation at the Thai border.

He was eventually released after five months and found his way back to Malaysia.

A PLACE CALLED ‘HOME’

The place Anwar Begum calls ‘home’ has no proper bedroom in the first place.

Where some lucky children sleep on mattress and beds, she and her siblings just sleep on the floor.

There is no soft, sweet-scented pillows or soft toys to cuddle. There is no bedroom lights nor comforters and what more hot showers.

There is not even a window in what could be a hall, used also as a sleeping area. The wall next to the front door (the only door) is so fragile that it shakes if you hold it too hard.

The other half of the ‘house’ is partitioned into two parts, one part has a toilet, a bathroom and also used as a kitchen while the other half is where the family have their meals and it also used as a sleeping area. There is a small window high up on the wooden wall, sufficient enough to allow some lights into the area down below.

But when it rains, the space below would be wet and traces of dampness could still be seen on blankets used to cover it.

Looking up to the zinc roof, there are some parts with holes, big enough to allow the rainwater to seep through during a heavy downpour. On such days, that is when the pots and pans and whatever container the family has, would be put into action, namely to catch the rainwater.

Before, the family has running water. The rainwater collected was such a blessing and would be used for the household needs.

Only recently the family had electricity supply. Prior to this, candles would be used when night falls and at times, they would just stay and sleep in darkness.

Anwar Begum and her siblings eat whatever their mother cooks for the day with no question asked. What they have for lunch would also be for dinner.

Normally, they would have white rice and some vegetable lentils.

Each person would only take a scoop of rice and a scoop of vegetable lentils and wash it down with plain water.

There is no second helping as there are 11 people in the family to start with!

— BERNAMA

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