Writing Class for Refugees

Outstation is all about global Malaysians. But today I want to talk about a different sort of migrant: refugees.

Recently, I taught a writing class at a refugee centre in KL. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. We Malaysians stress and worry about whether to stay or go. Some people simply don’t have a choice.

Here are their stories, in conjunction with World Refugee Day on June 20.

(Names have been changed.)


The Sky is Bigger

BY ANNA (Iraq)

I still remember the first day I came to Malaysia. I saw for the first time in my life really high buildings, new faces.

I think even the sky looked bigger and clearer.

The clouds were close and I felt as though I could touch them. I remember how scared I was.

The first years in Malaysia were really hard for me. I was only 15 when I came. I had my mother and my brother with me but I still felt alone even though I was not.

I was born in Iraq. At age 3, I had to leave. I don’t remember why. After that I was living in Jordan before I came to Malaysia.

When you become a refugee, people look at you differently. Even though they don’t know anything about you. They don’t know how hard it is to leave your country where you thought you would live forever.

They treat you differently, look at you differently. As if we are not humans like them.

Back in the days, I think people used to care for one another, help each other. I am talking about everyone in the world, not just my country and here.

But now every one cares about themselves. They don’t like to help, they are not very nice to you, always lying. If you want directions, they won’t help you. I don’t know why.

People should treat refugees well, because you never know.

Tomorrow that could be you.


The Tunnel of Waiting

BY OA (Syria)

It is ten months since I entered the tunnel of waiting, or what I call my situation here in Malaysia.

I remember all the details of my first interview at UNHCR. Since then, I have been a refugee and asylum seeker.

I woke up the next day with confused emotions. The first thing I did was look up on the Internet the meaning of asylum. I wondered how I would introduce myself to society.

I asked myself a lot of questions. Will I sing in the street on the way back to the house as I used to do in my country, without shame? Will I get a job according to my experience and education? Will I see life as before, full of happiness and enjoyment?

In those days, I read a lot of poems about refugees and asylum and I worried that my life would become an appropriate story for a poem.

Recently, a policeman stopped me and asked me for my passport. I tried to speak in Spanish so he would not think I was refugee. They consider refugees here illegal. Long after he left, I still felt the horizon very near to my chest and the clouds following me.

The issue of refugees is a global one. While it most immediately affects developing nations, there is a strong argument that industrialised countries should help by allowing more migration.

This is partly a moral issue and partly in the economic self-interest of industralised nations. We live in a global village and it is no longer possible to ignore what happens on the other side of the world.

Today I live more in my memory than in the present. When I drink a cup of coffee, I remember how it was drunk on the balcony of my house with a beautiful view of Damascus, my family and friends with me.


My Best Friends


When I came here with my family, I left my friends and everything I loved in Iraq.

Every time I met someone new, I wondered how they viewed me or if they would like me for who I am.

At first, I did not make any friends. I did have class mates and lab friends but I did not feel they were my true friends.

I told myself – who needs them? All need is my mom and dad and my sister.

But as time passed, the fear and loneliness started to grow.

After a while, I met some true friends. They did not even ask why I’m here or what I’m going to do for them. All they need is for me to reach out and I did that.

Now I have two best friends.

One is like my younger brother. I met him on Facebook and we started to share photos about anime and cosplay. He is always joking around and tries to keep a smile on everyone’s faces.

The other is like the older brother I always wanted. We play online games together and he gives me advice on life. Not only is he really cool on the outside, but on the inside he can be your best friend, your team mate or just your friend.

One day, on an outing with little brother, I met a girl.

She has long black hair and brown eyes that can see your soul and your pain. Inside she is like a flower that you can never stop looking at it. I love her smile and her open heart but most of all I love her open mind.

I was afraid at first, thinking a girl like her must have a boyfriend.

Last month, I took a leap of faith. I told her how I felt about her.

She did not seem surprised about it all.

She gave me a kiss on the cheek and said to me: It’s about time, fool.


My Dreams


I’m from the Darfur region.

I was born in a small village called Khadira and grew up there.

I went to primary school in Nouri district, close to my village. As I was completing primary school, militia known as Janjaweed, armed by Sudanese president Omar al-Basheir, attacked our village early morning Dec 30, 2003.

All the people in the village ran away to the mountains and forest and hid themselves in the long grasses.

We stayed there for three days without food and water. On Jan 2, 2004, we stepped down to Sisi, where there is a small military camp, seeking food and water.

When we got there, we tried to find some people from my village, including my brother and some classmates. But we didn’t find them.

Some friends and I went back to Khadira, Nouri and surrounding villages to look for them. Eventually, we heard they were killed by Janjaweed who attacked our village.

We were shocked. Our properties were pillaged and burned systematically. Nothing remained.

My family and I fled from our village with just the clothes on our bodies.

When we got to Sisi, it was winter. Many people passed away.

A few months later, some humanitarian organisations came and gave us clothes and food.

Since I went to Sisi camp, I didn’t go back to my village because the Janjaweed are still around there. When the women go out of the camp to collect firewood, they are raped and tortured by Janjaweed.

What I wish is for the UN to help our people in Darfur who are in a miserable situation. I wish peace to all people in Sudan.

I don’t want to go back to my country. Why? Because there is no justice. The government kills people everyday. Why?

Since I came to Malaysia, I have faced many problems including discrimination from the Malaysian people. Why? Because they can’t accept black people in their community.

Also, there is no chance for work. I wish to find another place to achieve my dreams.


If you want to help, go to www.msri.org.my

Many thanks to my writing students, as well as to Yolanda Lopez of MSRI, Vivienne Chew, Jennifer Clement, Reena Rao, Philip Cowell of English Pen and last but not least, Sun Chee Yan for coming in to teach photography.

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