DEAFENING SILENCE AT THE CEMETERY
Quiet graveyard the only reminder of tragic discovery in Wang Kelian in 2015
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.
Tombstones at the cemetery in Kampung Kepala Bendang, Pokok Sena, Kedah.