‘After These Incidents, Everyone Is Living With Worries’

By Zarni Mann 18 June 2013

In recent weeks, several Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia were injured and five reportedly died during clashes between Buddhist and Muslim migrants there. The violence is believed to be a spillover of recent sectarian violence in Burma.

Burmese migrants in Malaysia, who are estimated to number around 500,000, have called on their government to provide protection. Some 170 workers have returned home out of fear of renewed violence. The Ayeyarwaddy Foundation of Burmese business tycoon Zaw Zaw has offered to help migrant workers, including some of the injured, to return home.

On Tuesday, the foundation invited reporters to interview Htun Maw Thein at Rangoon’s Witoriya Hospital, where he was recovering from two-week-old stab wounds to his stomach, chest and back. Htun Maw Thein, who worked as a supervisor in NSK Supermarket in Kualu Lumpur, returned to Burma a day earlier.

Question: Can you explain what happened to you?

Answer: It was my unlucky day, May 30, around 10 pm. I usually would go back home with friends [after work]. But on that day I went to buy fried chicken and so I’m alone on my way back home. I was just outside the NSK building, when two unknown guys, each holding a knife, passed me and blocked my way while another one was at my back. When they tried to stab me, I begged them not to hurt me but one of them said in Burmese: “Stab him, kill him!” And, so the three of them moved toward me as I turned my back and ran. The one at my back stabbed me on my chest, abdomen and back. When one tried to stab me in the heart, I waived my hand so that my hands were injured. They leave me when I fell down. I do not know what nationality are they or could not recognize the faces as it was so dark. But one of them surely commands in Burmese to kill me.

There’s nobody on the road so, I stood up, clasped my gut — which fell out from the wound — braced myself and start to walk, and later I saw some security guards, asking for help and reach to the hospital.

My friends report to the police while I was in the hospital. The police said I am the third one who has been attacked in the week. Later we heard that the police were arresting Burmese workers who are without legal documents.

Doctors said that they have to cut off some parts of my intestines. In the hospital I could not sleep, not because of that pain but because I’m afraid that somebody might come and kill me. I thought about going back home all the time. I dare not to go near NSK, not even to collect my salary. But now, thanks to everyone who helped me, I feel safe. However, I still do not know how to carry on in the future, as I could not do hard work due to my health situation. But I do not want to blame others, this is just my karma.

Q: Do you believe this incident is related to the recent inter-communal violence in Burma?

A: I think so. After the news about clashes in Lashio [starting on May 28], the attacks targeting Burmese workers in Kuala Lumpur, began. Selayang area, where I live, is the most dangerous area, as many Burmese migrant workers live there.

Q: After this experience, are you willing to go back to Malaysia to work?

A: No, no. I dare not to go. I will never go to Malaysia again. I’m really afraid to go there again. I feel sorry for my friends who could not come back home. There are many who wish to come back home but they still have problems. Some are staying illegally, or lack proper documents, or they have to think about their family who to depend on them [for income]. After these incidents, everyone is living with worries.

Q: What would you like to tell to the people who are preparing to go to work in Malaysia?

A: I do not want to encourage them to go to Malaysia. Because there’s no safety and I’m worried that they might face an incident like me, as the Malaysian government cannot provide safety for Burmese workers in their country. Even the Burmese Embassy in Malaysia could not help us; it is very difficult to face problems in that country. Working in another country is such a hard experience.