The Rohingya crisis has forced over one million people to flee Myanmar, with over 108,500 registered with UNHCR seeking refuge in Malaysia alone. Photo: IOM 2024/Anushma Shrestha

Selangor, Malaysia – For Ahmad and his family, Kampung Sri Makmur was a place they called home. Since fleeing his village in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, where his community – the Rohingya – was uprooted, Ahmad and many others have had to find home elsewhere.

“I was closing my small grocery shop after a day’s work when I suddenly heard gunshots and an explosion. Screams and chaos spread like wildfire, and soon everyone was running for their lives. My first instinct was to go home to check on my wife and one-year-old son. I had to rescue them. But armed men were headed my way, pointing their guns. I had no choice but to flee, leaving behind my family,” recalls Ahmad.

The journey to Malaysia

The journey to Malaysia was not easy for Ahmad. Fears of being caught and deported, and the threat of imminent persecution based on his ethnicity loomed large, keeping him awake at night.

“Hiding from authorities and walking for days, I reached Thailand on foot with a group of other Rohingya. From there, I traveled to Malaysia.”

Ahmad misses his community members who had become his support system during this difficult time. IOM 2024/Anushma Shrestha

After all the hardships along the way, Ahmad eventually reached and found solace in Selangor. A fellow Rohingya living in Kampung Sri Makmur offered him support, helping him find a house and get back on his feet. He found a job as a street cleaner and rented a house in the same community. He was finally able to get in touch with his wife, who was living with her parents in another town in Myanmar after fleeing Ahmad’s hometown in the aftermath of the raid.

A fragile peace in Kampung Sri Makmur

Kampung Sri Makmur in Selangor, Malaysia has been home to hundreds of Rohingya families, where they have co-existed peacefully with local community members for decades. This co-existence was disrupted when they received an eviction notice earlier this year, ordering everyone to vacate their homes to make way for a high-rise condominium.

Ahmad preserved his cultural identity in the form of scriptures across the walls of his house in Kampung Sri Makmur, Malaysia. IOM 2024/Siti Munawirah Ahmad

“There were rumors going around, but I did not believe them,” recalls Ahmad, who, when coming home from work one day, saw a notice hanging on the door with red marks painted over his walls – indicating the place would soon be demolished.

“The notice sent our whole world spiraling out of control.”

Four years later, Ahmad was able to reunite with his wife and son and has since built a new life in Malaysia. Now, these evictions are once again forcing him and his family to leave their home. Homeless, Ahmad and his family are living temporarily with a friend while looking for a new house.

Struggles for survival

To help Rohingyas like Ahmad secure housing following eviction, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has provided cash assistance of MYR 1,000 (over USD 200) to each household in need.

“I used the cash assistance to pay off my outstanding rent for the house I was evicted from. It also allowed me to pay for this temporary house. However, I am still trying to find a more stable home, and finding a new house has been a challenge. Landlords no longer want to rent their properties to Rohingyas,” he shares, as rising misinformation and hate speech against the Rohingya community proliferates across online media.

The misinformation and hate speech against the Rohingyas is not a new phenomenon. For decades, the community has been blamed for the influx of refugees and irregular migrants into Malaysia, with the situation exacerbating during the COVID-19 pandemic where they were accused of spreading the virus.

Abdul's parallel struggle

Two blocks away from Ahmad lives Abdul, a fellow Rohingya who fled Myanmar and is seeking refuge in Malaysia. Abdul also shares the same struggle of finding a new place to live following eviction. He is currently staying in a cramped house with two other families.

“It isn’t just landlords who are now reluctant to rent houses. It’s also employers not recruiting us and schools not accepting our children to enroll,” says Abdul. “A lot of this reluctance comes from the negative information and false news portraying the Rohingyas as criminals on media.” Abdul shares how misinformation and hate speech are impacting the well-being of his family and community.

“There are bad and good people everywhere. But the deeds committed by a few bad people shouldn’t be used to define and characterize a whole community. We are not criminals but are just humans like everybody else.”

Enduring hardship

Coping with the stigma of being labeled as criminals evokes painful memories for Abdul. He recalls the harrowing time his family spent in detention before arriving in Kampung Sri Makmur. For seven grueling months, they endured overcrowded conditions, with scant food, limited water, and inadequate sanitation.

Many Rohingya children remain out of school and are not able to pursue education opportunities. IOM 2024/Anushma Shrestha

“As the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar escalated, the centre got more crowded and living conditions deteriorated,” recounts Abdul. “My children suffered a lot as we all started losing hope of ever being released.”

Unable to afford proper care in these harsh conditions, Abdul and his wife made an agonizing decision and gave up their youngest one-year-old daughter for adoption to a Malay family.

“It was the only way to ensure she received the care she needed. Even beyond detention, the family could provide her with an education, a safe home, and a chance to escape the harsh realities. She would have a future and live a life she deserved."

Not a day goes by when Abdul and his wife do not miss their daughter. Now, left with three sons, Abdul spends his days in constant trepidation for what fate holds for them.

A glimpse of hope

“We can’t enroll our children in schools. Without proper education, my sons won’t have the means to pursue a good life and find a decent job,” Abdul shares, tears in his eyes.

Coming across xenophobic posts portraying Rohingya as criminals, coupled with the fear of his sons being deprived of opportunities to pursue a better life, has taken a toll on Abdul’s mental health and psychosocial well-being.

Abdul and Ahmad’s families are among the 31 vulnerable households who lacked financial resources to relocate after eviction and are now being supported by IOM. Their ordeal did not stop at eviction. For nearly a month, they lived without electricity and water after utilities were cut off following the eviction notice, while they were still looking for alternative housing.

Not a handout

Human Aid Selangor Society (HASS), a non-governmental organization that works closely with refugee and migrant communities, connected IOM with Abdul and Ahmad to provide immediate and urgent cash assistance.

“Cash assistance is not a handout,” explains Kendra Rinas, Chief of Mission for IOM Malaysia. “It provides a vital lifeline for Rohingya to secure immediate and temporary housing in these vulnerable times and empowers Rohingya families to rebuild their lives with a sense of agency.”

“The eviction is a reminder of the plight of Rohingya families and the human cost of displacement. It underscores the urgent need for long-term solutions to ensure the Rohingya population and those displaced can access basic rights and services, and opportunities to rebuild their lives with dignity,” Rinas adds.

Ahmad and Abdul’s stories are a testament to the resilience and strength of the Rohingya community. Despite facing immense challenges, they continue to strive for a better future for their families. The support from organizations like IOM and HASS provides a glimmer of hope in their ongoing struggle for stability and dignity.

IOM’s cash-based rental assistance for Rohingya population who faced eviction was made possible through support from the European Union.   


 *Names have been changed to protect identity. 

 This story is written by Anushma Shrestha, Media and Communications Officer at IOM Thailand. 

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