Tuesday, Oct 24th

Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Wednesday, 05 July 2017 00:00

The Joy of Owning a Refugee Card

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Peggy Lee & Catherine Foo

Hamid eventually possessed the long-awaited UNHCR refugee card. His joy is well expressed on his face. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]

“I have got my card! I have finally got my UNHCR refugee card!” Hamid from Myanmar could not contain his happiness upon receiving his long dreamt UNHCR refugee card. With this card, he would no longer have to worry about his medical treatment.


Life is so unpredictable. Twenty-one-year-old Hamid Husson could never have imagined that the unfortunate incident of a nail hitting his eye, which nearly blinded him, had in fact changed his life for the better. His encounter with Tzu Chi volunteers had helped to fulfil his wish to obtain a UNHCR refugee card that he has been dreaming of all this while.

Within a short period of a month, Hamid had a nail in his eye removed, and at the same time, became a happy holder of a UNHCR refugee card. Everything that has happened seemed like the makings of a movie. He has felt a mixture of fear and joy throughout this eventful month.

On June 9, 2017, volunteer Ting Fong Chuan received a call from Tzu Chi KL & Selangor Branch to render assistance to a Myanmar refugee in a hospital. The said refugee, Hamid, had to be admitted immediately to remove a nail in his eye but was denied admission as he did not have the deposit for the treatment. Fong Chuan stopped his work at once and immediately contacted another volunteer, Heng Wah Seng to rush to the hospital.

Upon arrival at the hospital entrance, they saw Hamid squatting down, with his hand pressing on his left eye. A medical officer, Dr Kumar Vadamala, was with him. Yellowish discharge kept flowing out of Hamid’s left eye. The level of pain he was enduring was clearly expressed on his face. The two volunteers quickly handled the admission procedure for Hamid.

“Hamid’s condition was very severe according to Dr Kumar. Instant treatment should be given to avoid the risk of other complications. We reported the case to our Tzu Chi Office and obtained the permission to pay RM2,800 as deposit to admit Hamid.”

In the process of the admission procedure, Hamid kept pressing on his left eye with a piece of his singlet, looking worried and in pain. The two volunteers were equally as worried until Hamid was well settled in the ward. Eventually, Hamid managed to squeeze out a smile and expressed thanks to the volunteers.

The very next day, Hamid underwent a surgery to clear the clogged blood and infection to his left eye. The doctor diagnosed that his eye was badly injured, which could cause blindness if treatment was delayed. There was also a possibility that the infection would spread to his brain and cause death.

Both Fong Chuan and Wah Seng were glad that their timely aid in admitting Hamid had probably saved his life. They felt for him and were constantly visiting him in the hospital to get an update of his condition and most of all, to accompany and to talk to him in the hope of easing his pain and worries.

A two-inch nail in the eye

Fong Chuan and Wah Seng, who were deeply saddened to hear of Hamid’s experience with the nail, admired the latter’s endurance of the severe pain.

The young man with thick and curly hair is a Rohingyan farmer from Myanmar. His parents had passed away leaving behind nine children, with Hamid being the sixth child. He has two elder sisters, three elder brothers, one younger brother and a younger sister. Due to poverty and years of civil war in his country, his family had, in 2013, sold some cows to raise RM5,000 for him to be smuggled into Malaysia to earn his livelihood.

“I was smuggled in from Thailand, settled down in Johor Bahru and earned my living working part-time in a restaurant,” said Hamid frankly. Lacking personal identification documents and having failed to obtain a UNHCR refugee card despite many attempts to apply with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur, he had to live his life bearing the undocumented refugee status.

Without a refugee card, Hamid was deprived of employment. He could only take up odd jobs, earning a mere RM700 to RM800 per month. After paying RM200 for rental, his remaining earnings is just enough for a very thrifty livelihood. It is never easy to earn a living in a foreign environment. Nevertheless, the presence of law enforcement officers at any time is his biggest worry.

“I was living in fear daily, having to run to hide whenever police carried out their patrols. I told my family back home that I could manage with food but felt unsafe without a refugee card. My family advised me not to return home because the civil war is ongoing and they are living without food. Everyone is starving,” described Hamid.

Hamid expressed his fear to his siblings back home through phone calls. The feedbacks from home were that the war is still on and everyone is starving, and this dispelled his idea of returning home. Furthermore, as he left his country illegally, it is very likely that he would be detained upon returning.

On June 6, when Hamid was trying to fix a loose door of his rented room, a two-inch nail bounced straight back into his left eye whilst he was hammering. He was stunned for a moment by the excruciating pain before he decided to pull it out on his own.

Hamid could not tolerate the pain and yellowish discharge that kept flowing out from his eye. He went to the hospital to seek treatment but was rejected due to his illegal refugee status. He had no choice but to just wrap his eye with a cloth.

He was in great pain for three whole days. Eventually, he took his peers’ advice to seek help at UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur. He then took a bus from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur with RM200, the only amount of money he had left.

The 300 km journey was not a great distance but for Hamid, who had been enduring the piercing pain for three days, the trip seemed endless. He had to keep pressing on to his left eye with only a piece of his singlet because discharge kept flowing out of his eye. He even thought that he would die of pain along the journey.

Grateful to good people

“Lucky for me, I met good people along the way. A kind lady gave me some money to see a doctor. When I was in Kuala Lumpur, I did not know where the UNHCR office was. A kind taxi driver sent me there. At the UNHCR office, the officer instructed me to seek treatment at Tzu-Chi Free Clinic immediately.”

Hamid then took another taxi to Tzu-Chi Free Clinic in Pudu and was seen by Dr Foo Seay Liang, who was on duty. Upon seeing the serious condition that he was in, Dr Foo referred him to the hospital for treatment. At the hospital, Hamid was required to pay a deposit for foreigners before he could be admitted for treatment. Dr Foo then contacted Tzu Chi KL & Selangor Branch to request for volunteers near the hospital to render assistance to Hamid.

Whilst wandering around the hospital’s entrance waiting for volunteers’ arrival, Hamid was so grateful to Dr Kumar who showed his concern and accompanied him until the volunteers arrived. During hospitalization, Dr Kumar would also occasionally visit him and check his eye.

Although Hamid’s left eye was still in pain and his vision was very much affected, he had calmed down a lot after being warded. He was then referred to Hospital Selayang’s Ophthalmology Department for an examination and the outcome was encouraging. His eye infection was under control and the doctor assured him that with proper treatment, he will gradually regain his eyesight.

On June 28, Hari Raya for the Muslims, Fong Chuan and Wah Seng caringly prepared watermelon and some Malay pastries to celebrate the occasion with Hamid. Fong Chuan could not forget the expression of joy and satisfaction in Hamid when he saw the watermelon and immediately put it in his mouth, telling everyone that it is his favourite fruit and that he had been longing for it.

When Fong Chuan used his mobile phone to play Raya songs, Hamid echoed with a great smile. The familiar tune reminded him of his childhood and festive celebrations with his family back home. But the present war had destroyed everything. Laughter and singing no longer existed at his home.

Fong Chuan and Wah Seng encouraged Hamid to be positive and to believe in a better tomorrow. They presented a green packet* with some money from Tzu Chi to Hamid as a token of blessing, wishing him a speedy recovery and a Selamat Hari Raya (Happy Raya Festival). Hamid was so touched that he placed Wah Seng’s hands on his chest to show his gratefulness.

The long-awaited refugee card

“My only hope is to get a UNHCR refugee card. With the card, I am free to move around without fear of being detained. I can go to the hospital to seek treatment when I am sick. I really need the card.” This is Hamid’s Hari Raya wish.

Hamid’s wish was deeply etched in Fong Chuan’s mind. Thus, he liaised with the social workers of Tzu Chi’s Charity Department to help Hamid with the necessary procedures to apply for a UNHCR refugee card.

In early July, Hamid’s eyesight had greatly improved and he could see lights and some shadows. The doctor reminded him to apply his eye drops on time and do the necessary follow-ups. It should not be any problem then but it will take time to observe the condition of his recovery before the doctor decides on the next treatment. Hamid was ready to be discharged and get back to his normal life.

Hamid would very much liked to return to Johor Bahru upon his discharge but his biggest worry was the follow-up treatment of his eye at the hospital as he did not possess a UNHCR refugee card; and neither could he afford to get treatment from a private hospital. Having registered Hamid’s predicament in mind, Fong Chuan then liaised with Tzu Chi KL & Selangor Branch to follow up closely with UNHCR office on Hamid’s refugee card application. He hoped that Hamid could own a refugee card before returning to Johor Bahru so that he could go for his follow-up check-ups at a hospital there.

July 5 marked a very important date for Hamid as he was granted an appointment to be interviewed in the UNHCR office; and eventually, his application was approved. A joyous Hamid said, “I have been waiting for this for a few years now. I have also been here a couple of times but failed to get this card. I am very thankful to Tzu Chi and you all (the volunteers)! With your help, I managed to get my refugee card.”

Hamid could not conceal his joy upon receiving his UNHCR refugee card. He kept showing his card to the volunteers and happily invited everyone to take photos with him. He wanted to keep this beautiful memorable moment forever. The overwhelmed Hamid had for a moment forgotten about his pain. He would like to go back to Johor Bahru immediately to begin a new life.

In the company of volunteers, Hamid went back to the hospital after obtaining his UNHCR card to settle the medical bill. He was so touched when he realized that Tzu Chi had assisted in paying up his medical bill. He expressed gratitude to the volunteers repeatedly and had some photos taken with them so that he could show his family this group of kind-hearted people.

While leaving the hospital, volunteers gave their blessings and best wishes to Hamid, while at the same time reminded him to get follow-up treatments in Johor Bahru and not to forget to apply his eye drops. Hamid really felt the warmth from these kind souls. He promised to take good care of his eye, to work hard and to appreciate his life.

Hamid did not take his “nail in the eye” misfortune with hatred. His trip to seek medical treatment in Kuala Lumpur actually turned out to be a fortunate incident as he received much assistance from good people in helping him to overcome many difficulties. Subsequently, his life was saved and the most crucial long-awaited UNHCR refugee card is now in his possession. He strongly believes there is still love and warmth in this world. This wonderful and unforgettable feeling will always be kept deep in his mind and his soul.

Green packet is a form of blessings given to guests by the Muslims during Hari Raya. It is similar to the Chinese tradition of giving“ang pow” (red packets) during Chinese New Year.

 

 

When Hamid hammered a nail to fix a loose door at his home, the nail bounced back and pierced straight into his left eye. He had faced many difficulties in his journey to travel from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur to seek medical help. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]   Volunteer Heng Wah Seng (right) and Ting Fong Chuan visited Hamid in the hospital frequently to follow up with his progress. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]

When Hamid hammered a nail to fix a loose door at his home, the nail bounced back and pierced straight into his left eye. He had faced many difficulties in his journey to travel from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur to seek medical help. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]
 
Volunteer Heng Wah Seng (right) and Ting Fong Chuan visited Hamid in the hospital frequently to follow up with his progress. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]
 
A simple yet warm Hari Raya celebration touched Hamid’s heart and reminded him of his family back home, who are living in hunger and under civil war conditions. Volunteers quickly comforted him and offered him encouragement. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]   Hamid enjoyed his favourite fruit, watermelon, brought by volunteers. At that moment, he had temporarily forgotten about his pain. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]

A simple yet warm Hari Raya celebration touched Hamid’s heart and reminded him of his family back home, who are living in hunger and under civil war conditions. Volunteers quickly comforted him and offered him encouragement. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]
 
 
Hamid enjoyed his favourite fruit, watermelon, brought by volunteers. At that moment, he had temporarily forgotten about his pain. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]
 
Hamid finally got his long-awaited UNHCR refugee card and happily invited volunteers to take photos with him, not forgetting to thank all volunteers for their great help. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]  

Hamid finally got his long-awaited UNHCR refugee card and happily invited volunteers to take photos with him, not forgetting to thank all volunteers for their great help. [Photograph by Ho Wing Hong]