May 10, 2019
Sabekunahar invites us in. She rolls out a brightly coloured mat for us to sit on. Her welcome is warm, friendly and sincere, despite us interrupting her busy morning of housework, childcare and cooking. All of this is done in a second language in Malaysia where she lives as a refugee. But her welcome never changes, even when guests are unexpected. Rohingya culture values people and community so, even on a small income, precious money is spent to honour guests. Sabekunahar heads straight to the kitchen to see what she can cook; someone is sent to buy cans of drink for the visitors.
Sabekunahar is a wonderful cook and we enjoy the feast of curry, rice and fresh fruit set before us. Our plates are topped up with more, accompanied by the words “eat, eat.” Sabekunahar is delighted we enjoy her cooking.
This happy scene hides a few truths which Sabekunahar quietly bears. The perilous journey she made to Malaysia at the hands of human traffickers, is rarely spoken of. It is hard to describe the emotional and physical scars endured through these journeys. Nor do we talk about the isolation. Through smartphones, Sabekunahar’s parents, living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, meet their grandchildren; that is as close as Sabekunahar gets to seeing her parents and siblings.
There are an estimated 150,000 Rohingya living in Malaysia, where they do not receive the warm welcome they so generously give to guests. They have no rights and receive no welfare. It is illegal for them to work and they are at risk of arrest every time they leave home.
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