Friday, June 24, 2011

The anguish of Sayed Kasim, A Prominant Human Rights, Refugee Rights and Pro-democracy Activist

Here in edited form is a letter composed on behalf of a Burmese man, named Sayed Kasim, to the Inspector General of ASIO and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen. Mr Kasim is a gentle, soft-spoken man whose quite demeanour betrays enormous grief and anxiety. His situation is one of the worst that we have seen, given that his family are literally dying whilst he languishes he detention:

My name is Sayed Kasim and I have been a detainee at the Immigration Detention Facilities within Australia for the last 18 months. I am a Rohingya refugee who fled my native country of Burma and went to Malaysia, where I lived for a period of 17 years, before fleeing to Australia in 2010. I have been registered as a refugee with the UNHCR for over 17 years and was granted refugee status by Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship 12 months ago. I currently reside in Sydney’s Villawood Immigration and Detention Centre.

The reason I am writing this letter is to find out about the status of my security clearance and to ask if you can help me by speeding up the process. I have been waiting for my security clearance for the past twelve months and during that time my family, who are living in Malaysia, are experiencing extreme hardship and poverty. This is causing me great distress and anxiety.

Sayed Kasim in the Villawood Detention Centre, 2011

My story began in 1992, when the Burmese army seized me and took me to an army camp, where I was brutally tortured. They kicked me about the body and beat my legs with an iron rod. When I asked for water, I was made to drink urine. I escaped the army and fled into the surrounding jungle, where I met up with a friend who gave me the money to leave Burma.

I fled to Malaysia, where I lived for 17 years, between 1992 and 2010. There, in the city of Klang in the state of Selangor, I established educational classes for the children of Rohingya refugees. In my capacity as a religious teacher to refugees, I came to the attention of one of Malaysia’s largest government sponsored religious organizations, Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS). After I cooperated with a Malaysian Christian association, the JAIS accused me of proselatising Christianity within my school. I was brought before a council, who accused me of apostasy and threatened to behead me if I ever associated with a Christian group in the future. For a time, my life returned to normal, before an innocuous incident again brought me to the attention of JAIS. It occurred when some children from my school played football with students from a Christian school that had been founded with the support of the UNHCR. Later that night (3 October 2010) two masked men appeared at my house, accusing me of working for Christians. I fled from the scene, though the men insisted that if I did not turn myself in they would behead me.

Sayid Kasim (3rd from right in front of children) at his Muslim school for Rohingya refugees in Malaysia

I then relocated with my family to Selayang, where we went into hiding—though it was clear that I would not be safe for as long as we remained in Malaysia. My accusers called my mobile phone and continued to threaten my life. On two occasions I made formal complaints to the police, but this proved a futile course of action after the police threatened to arrest me if I did not desist from my appeals. (I have copies of the accepted police reports which detail my harassment and can show them as evidence if required to do so.) I subsequently went to the offices of the UNHCR, who could not guarantee my safety and advised that I flee to a distant part of Malaysia. I realized that I needed to find refuge in a safe country such as Australia.

In 2010, I fled Malaysia, leaving my wife and four children behind, who are without any legal protection. The oldest of my children is 8 and the youngest is 2 years of age. I originally left my wife and children at the home of a friend, though after a time they did not have enough money to feed themselves and often went for up to two days without food. Because of this our children are malnourished. Five months ago my wife was compelled to place my eight-year old son, Lokman Hakim, in the care of an orphanage in Kuala Lumpur. When I speak to him on the phone, he cries and asks to be taken back to his mother. I do not know what to say to him except that I am in a difficult situation and he needs to be patient, but this is taking a terrible emotional toll on all of us.

Recently, Juma Bibi, my wife, was sexually harassed by a man who is a relative of the friend with whom I left them, which caused me great distress. This person requested that she perform sexual favours for him in exchange for money, effectively pressuring her into a state of prostitution. When an advocate for Australia’s Refugee Action Coalition, Mark Goudkamp, spoke to Rohingya refugees on a recent visit to Malaysia, he met my wife, who was able to relate some of the difficulties that she and the children face. Yet whilst she was able to describe their poverty to Mr Goudkamp, she was unable to describe the sexual harassment she was experiencing because the man who wanted to buy and have sex with her was at the meeting—unbeknownst to the Australian representative who had arrived to listen to her story! Nonetheless, Mr Goudkamp is informed about many of the particulars concerning my family’s situation and I would urge you to contact him for any further information.

After the harassment took place, my wife and my remaining three children fled that house and were homeless for two days. She became so desperate that she decided to kill herself. She walked up to one of the area’s main highways, where she was preparing to throw herself into the traffic, when another refugee saw her and offered that she and the children could stay in her home for a time. However, this woman (whose name is Saburah) is in ill health and my family will not be able to stay with her for much longer. I worry that Saburah cannot afford to keep them and will claim that she is unable to rest and thus regain her health in the presence of crying children.

Juma Bibi and their 3 youngest children

I have made many attempts to seek assistance for my family from a number of refugee advocacy groups and human rights organizations but without the intervention that is necessary to alleviate their suffering. Because I cannot return to Malaysia to protect my family whilst I am in detention, I need answers about the status of my security clearance. If this process is not sped up, and for as long as my family are exposed to danger, I do not see how I can go on living as I am.

Sayed Kasim.

(The Refugee Art Project are organising to help Mr Kasim’s wife and children in Malaysia. If anyone wishes to make enquiries or give a financial donation, please email Safdar Ahmed at

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