Burmese Migrant Community in Malaysia Simmers after Attacks

Burmese shops and businesses are pictured near Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Simon Roughneen / The Irrawaddy)

Burmese shops and businesses are pictured near Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Simon Roughneen / The Irrawaddy)

KUALA LUMPUR — Differing accounts are emerging from Burmese migrants and refugees in Malaysia about recent deadly violence here that has claimed several lives and pitted Burmese groups in Malaysia against each other.

The deaths, which prompted the arrest of hundreds of Burmese nationals by Malaysian police, are being described as spillover from recent Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Burma.

“We don’t know who did these attacks,” says San Win, chairman of the Malaysia Myanmar Free Funeral Service, a Kuala Lumpur-based group that assists Burmese migrants. Flicking through gory photos of roughly stitched victims of the violence, he adds, “but we think it could be the Rohingya people.”

The president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHOM), Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani, disputes this speculation.

“This is not correct,” he says, citing previous attacks by Buddhists on Muslims in Burma, which he says did not prompt sectarian reprisals in Malaysia. “We have to respect Malaysian law and if any Rohingya breaks the law, we don’t support it,” Abdul Ghani adds.

Tun Tun, a Burmese Muslim who has long worked to assist Burmese workers living in Malaysia, says that two Muslims were killed in the recent clashes. Tun Tun, who is head of the Burma Campaign Malaysia, says that seven people have been killed—a number at odds with Malaysian police accounts of the recent attacks, which suggest that four have died, all thought to be ethnic Burman Buddhists.

The attacks have raised concerns that the deaths were the result of reprisal attacks by Burmese Muslims living in Malaysia, retaliating after dozens of Muslims were killed in violence over recent months in various outbreaks of religious violence across Burma.

“It started here after Lashio,” says San Win, referring to Buddhist riots and looting that took place in Lashio, the biggest town in eastern Burma’s Shan State. Those clashes started after a May 28 attack, reportedly perpetrated by a Muslim man on a Buddhist woman, and left around 1,400 Muslims homeless.

“But we always try to maintain friendship here [in Malaysia] with Muslims,” San Win adds.

Similarly, Tun Tun says that though relations between Burma’s Muslims and Buddhists in Malaysia have typically been cordial, there has been a marked deterioration in recent months.

Citing what he perceives to be Burmese media bias and exaggerated claims on social networking websites, Tun Tun says discord between Burma’s Muslim and Buddhist migrants is overhyped.

“Some of the 969 movement supporters brought the anti-Muslim campaign to here five months ago, [since] then both side are not trusting each other,” he says, referring to a push by Burmese monk Wirathu and other Buddhist nationalists to boycott Muslim businesses and, some say, incite violence against Muslims in Burma.

Commercial Repercussions

The recent attacks have stalled commerce for Burmese in Malaysia’s biggest city. Next to Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, Bangladeshi, Filipino, and Indonesian migrants run shops and restaurants on side streets, a hectic din of sales pitches, frying snacks and belching traffic.

Along the nearby Burmese strip, demarcated by signs reading “Kampung [Malay for village] Myanmar,” business has been down in recent days, according to Thu Ya, who runs a Burmese restaurant just around the corner from central Kuala Lumpur’s main bus station.

“A lot of people are staying home, not as much for the violence, but because of the arrests,” he says, speaking while waitresses in Burmese dress ferried drinks and Burmese snacks to the smattering of lunchtime patrons on the premises. One of Thu Ya’s staff remains in detention after being caught up in the Malaysian police dragnet cast after the recent attacks, which mostly took place in Selayang, about seven miles from downtown Kuala Lumpur.

In the Shan Taung Dan restaurant across the same street, a recent arrival from Mandalay, Burma’s second city, says that though concerned by the recent murders and arrests, Burmese migrants around Kuala Lumpur are trying to revert to “our normal life here.”

The man, who asked that his name be withheld, says he landed in Malaysia just two months ago. “I need to make money,” he says. “Yes, reform is good in Myanmar, but is [happening] slowly. So you cannot yet find a good job at home,” he laments.

Between 400,000 and 500,000 Burmese migrants are thought to be living in Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy, drawn by the prospect of low-paying, heavy-lifting jobs in construction and on plantations. According to the United Nations, there are almost 100,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia.

The Mandalay native says that many people are more concerned about being arrested by Malaysian police than anything else. “Many people don’t have documents. That is why they stay home these days,” he says.

Malaysian press accounts report that the country’s Immigration Department is investigating how 307 detained Burmese came to possess fake refugee papers.

Burma’s other ethnic and religious minorities in Malaysia are wary, fearing members of their communities might be dragged into what is now a simmering sectarian feud. Israel Lal Hmun Siam, a Christian ethnic Chin living in Kuala Lumpur, says “people are worried they might be attacked mistakenly.”

Siam, who works for the Chin Refugee Committee, a support group for the estimated 40,000 Chin Burmese in Malaysia, believes that the recent Kuala Lumpur violence is a spillover from Burma.

“If they solve the conflict in Myanmar, then no problem here,” he claims.

That seems far off, however, with MERHOM’s Abdul Ghani interrupting an interview to take what he said was a call from Burma’s Arakan State. “There was more cutting today, 10 people,” he says, referring to what he says was an attack by Arakanese on Rohingya near Kyauktaw Township.

A Burmese government delegation is currently in Malaysia to assess the situation among Burmese migrants after the recent violence, with Malaysian authorities on Thursday warning Burmese migrants not to restart the recent clashes.

But San Win says he thinks the Burmese government is more concerned with maintaining good relations with its fellow Asean nation than with assisting the Burmese in Malaysia. “They just stay quiet when I tell them the problems here,” he says.

“For now, people are still afraid here.”

11 Responses to Burmese Migrant Community in Malaysia Simmers after Attacks

  1. I’ve already said a long time ago that this silly tribal ethnic religious fervour against Rohingyas and Muslims will back-fire badly. Burmese people seem to practise double standards and people outside of Burma are not stupid, They can see through this. Burmese tell the Rohingyas to “go back to Bangladesh” unless they “live like Burmese Buddhists” and complain that NGO’s, human rights groups, the UNHCR, etc. are “too nice and biased” to them, but then hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees (authentic or not) take advantage of the same organisations to go to live in another country, even Muslim(sic) countries, mainly for economic opportunities, (of course, most Burmese would prefer to go to Fort Wayne, Indiana or Bergen, Norway!) and I’m pretty sure that it’s not just the Rohingyas who are the “fake refugees and illegal immigrants”. Isn’t there an obvious contradiction? I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to immigrate or migrate to find work and a better life but then everyone should have the same right and it has to be done legally without cheating and racial prejudice (I’m not even talking about the difference between Rohingyas and Chinese in Burma!) and if one lives and works or has citizenship in another country, one has to give up this nonsense about these primitive notions of tribal ethnic identity.

  2. Wirathu is responsible. Arrest this thug fake monk and put him behind bars for rest of his life all thr problems will be over. And peace will prevail otherwise Malaysian muslims and Indonesian muslims will not sit idle. Very sad to that learn people in Asian nations are killing each other. Monks are taking part in politics and are murdering innocent minorities of their own country. Shame on them.

  3. Agree with Ginni. Time to face up to the fact that it seems to be mainly nationalistic so-called Buddhists who are stirring up trouble. Yes, shame on these thugs in monks’ robes. I am very familiar with the situation in Malaysia, and it is obvious that tensions here have recently been imported from outside. Myanmar workers here already have a tough time, but in response to simplistic Molly above, if Malaysians would get off their backsides, they would not need so many foreign workers, and might have more respect for the work done by those already, legally, here.

  4. Holly Molly! You what a son of gun!
    Malaysia Government and Companies can not afford to lose Golden Opportunity for their business in Burma.

    “If Malaysia don’t may has cross fire”.

    What kind of cross fire? What do you mean it?
    Do you mean you and associates want to do something stupid act in Malaysia?
    I bet, you will be fist person to be kicking out from Malaysia whether you’re Muslim or not because you’re terrorism ideology.
    You know Malaysian Government and Malaysian peoples do not care about Buddhist or Muslim or Christian if you were foreigner and then you’re nothing to them. If you’re refugee and then they thought you’re useless rubbish in their country. If you’re foreigner migrant worker and then they will look down you some will say you rob their job.
    Malaysians are nothing difference to other other capitalists today. Only a few Muslim fanatic will rise their voice about so called Rohingya Muslim problems in Burma because majority of Malay are concerning about crimes committed by foreigners in Malaysia. Now they know the Bengalis so called Rohingyas are moving home to Malaysia.

    “Never trust Burmese Buddhist. They are lier”.
    You’re not too bad yourself Molly.

  5. Burmese must go home and Muslims must leave Burma. Lions and tigers cannot stay in one cage.

  6. Muslims are Muslims. they are violent, they are terrorists. The difference between Rohingyas in Burma and Burmese Buddhists living in Muslim countries is that Rohingyas terrorize the local communities but Burmese Buddhists don’t.

    • Buddhists are Buddhists. they are violent, they are terrorists

    • Oh really Wisdom? Wirathu is muslim?if Muslim is violent what Buddhist monk done? Wirathu n 969 gang doing? Now in myanmar Killing,burning, all violent n terrorize have done with Buddhist monks n the whol world know all about it. If u say Muslim is violent wirathu n 969 are Muslim too right? Look man,your this comment show how many knowledge u hav. And andamanonge in your comment I saw fake refugee, NGO ……., let me say your Myanmar country’s controller is Buddhist n if your Buddhist not terrorize why Myanmar people living in refugee? Everybody in the world want peace n nobody need the war, every people want to live with their family in their home with peace. N your comment proof you r violent. If u want to say Burmese is not terrorize go n tell Wirathu n 969 monks for answer all about their voilent.

      • You should educate yourselves first by doing some research on the world’s history and see what religion has been the most violent. Buddhism has never supported violence or religious war a.k.a Jihad or Holly war.

  7. No worries Molly, we will not stay one second in your much confused State between Malays and Chinese compounded by half-baked Islamic followers. What is Malaysia, just an Island with civilization started not long ago using ‘ABCD’ alphabets for day to day communication. Our Myanmar language started way back in 500BC using Sanskrit.We Buddhist have five precepts such as :

    To refrain from killing. The central tenet of Buddhism is ahimsa, or non-harming, which teaches the sanctity of all life—humans, animals, plants, and even the environment. Hence, the first precept helps us engender compassion for ourselves and all living beings.

    To refrain from taking things not given. Aside from outright stealing, this may also include consuming more than necessary, wasting resources, or exploitation. Instead, the Buddha encouraged us to practice dana, or generosity.

    To refrain from sexual misconduct. This precept pertains to avoiding causing harm through sexual behavior. This includes sexual assaults, infidelity, promiscuity, and for some Buddhists, premarital sex. Being aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, we can exercise responsibility and strengthen the integrity of our personal relationships.

    To refrain from lying. This precept invites us to use words wisely, truthfully, and kindly. Just as actions of the body can inflict harm, so too can words. Buddhists aim to seek truth and wisdom; lying and deception only increase delusion and ignorance.

    To refrain from taking intoxicants. Buddhism emphasizes wisdom and clarity of mind. It teaches us to “look within” to find our Buddha nature. Intoxicants such as alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs cloud our minds and thus impair our ability to practice. Furthermore, when intoxicated, we are prone to transgress the previous four precepts.

    Do you have one of the above so as Sai Lin kan?

  8. Chauvinists are turning the country into *Killing Fields*. Man is evil, and don’t blame religion. Stop this madness . . .

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