DEAF­EN­ING SI­LENCE AT THE CEME­TERY

Quiet grave­yard the only re­minder of tragic dis­cov­ery in Wang Kelian in 2015

New Straits Times - - News - ADIE SURI ZULKEFLI AND EMBUN MA­JID ALOR STAR news@nst.com.my Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ili Shazwani

EX­CEPT for se­rial num­bers, none of the tomb­stones at the ceme­tery bears a name. Lo­cated on an un­marked piece of land bor­der­ing a rubber es­tate 200m from the main road in Kam­pung Kepala Ben­dang, the ceme­tery is known only to lo­cals in Pokok Sena, Kedah, and some out­siders who were in­volved in bury­ing the dead two years ago.

There are only sounds of birds and ve­hi­cles pass­ing the Tualang-Pokok Sena trunk road, and the grave­yard, 20km from here, is quiet.

Un­like other ceme­ter­ies, none of the fam­i­lies of the 153 peo­ple buried here had vis­ited the graves and per­haps, will never do so as the dead are uniden­ti­fied.

This is the burial site of the bod­ies and skele­tons which had been ex­humed from shal­low graves of an il­le­gal camp built in the woods of Bukit Burma, Wang Kelian, near the Malaysia-Thai­land bor­der in Perlis.

Most of the vic­tims were Rohingya refugees who had risked their lives to es­cape per­se­cu­tion by the Myan­mar junta in their home­land in Rakhine State.

Each of them paid RM6,000 to a syn­di­cate, en­trust­ing it with their lives, only to be held against their will at a makeshift camp un­til their fam­i­lies paid ran­som to se­cure their re­lease.

De­spite the ab­sence of names on the tomb­stones, the world knows about the de­spi­ca­ble abuses and tor­ture in­flicted by the hu­man traf­fick­ing syn­di­cate.

The vic­tims, in­clud­ing chil­dren, were tortured and starved, and the women were raped count­less times by their cap­tors.

It has been two years since, but the painful ex­pe­ri­ence of bury­ing the vic­tims at the ceme­tery keeps haunting Mohd Noor Abu Bakar.

There was a lump in his throat as the Myan­mar Eth­nic Rohingya Hu­man Rights Or­gan­i­sa­tion Malaysia Kedah chap­ter chair­man re­counted the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Like many other Rohingya refugees here, the vic­tims had no choice but to flee from op­pres­sion in our home­land.

“I could not con­tain my emo­tions when bury­ing the skele­tal re­mains as they could have been my friends or rel­a­tives.

“We buried them with­out know­ing their names. Their fam­i­lies will never get clo­sure as there was no iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments on any of them,” said Noor at the ceme­tery.

He ex­pressed grat­i­tude from the Rohingya com­mu­nity in Malaysia to the Kedah gov­ern­ment and Malaysian authorities for giv­ing the vic­tims a proper burial.

Since the dis­cov­ery of the il­le­gal camp in Wang Kelian in May 2015, Noor said there had been no more re­ports of traf­fick­ing of Rohingya into Malaysia.

He at­trib­uted this to the clam­p­down on hu­man traf­fick­ing and en­hanced se­cu­rity at in­ter­na­tional bor­ders by the Malaysian and Thai authorities.

Checks by the New Sun­day Times at the Fel­cra (Fed­eral Land Con­sol­i­da­tion and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Author­ity) set­tle­ment in Lubuk Sireh, 3km from the Malaysia-Thai­land bor­der in Perlis, showed that there was no move­ment of il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the area.

Lo­cal Oth­man Mat said be­tween 2014 and 2015, there would be groups of 10 il­le­gal im­mi­grants cross­ing the bor­der through the rubber es­tates daily.

“Some even knocked on our doors to plead for food. It broke our hearts to see their con­di­tion, es­pe­cially the ba­bies, women and the el­derly, who were very weak, thin, sickly and de­hy­drated. We would give them food and treat their mi­nor in­juries be­fore hand­ing them to the authorities.”

How­ever, he said, there had been much im­prove­ment since the authorities stepped up bor­der pa­trols.

Padang Be­sar po­lice chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Ghaz­ani Ab­dul Ghani said po­lice­men and the Gen­eral Op­er­a­tions Force pa­trolled the area.

He said po­lice were mon­i­tor­ing the Wang Kelian area closely and to date, there had been no move­ment of il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the area.

PIC BY ADIE SURI ZULKIFLI

Tomb­stones at the ceme­tery in Kam­pung Kepala Ben­dang, Pokok Sena, Kedah.

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