Julia Zappei, Journalist

 I saw the fear in their eyes.

I am a Kuala Lumpur-based correspondent for the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP). Some months back, when tensions in Myanmar between minority ethnic Rohingya Muslims and majority Burmese Buddhists flared again, a Rohingya activist, who I have been in touch with for years, asked to see me.

When I met him, tears welt up in his eyes as he recounted how he hasn’t heard from his mother in Myanmar for weeks and he is so worried for her and the rest of the family. It reminded me of the others I had met earlier in similar anguish for their families back in Myanmar and horrendous tales of fleeing violence and destruction. Listening to him and looking at his frail figure and teary eyes, I felt helpless.

A few weeks later, I received a text message from a Burmese Buddhist monk living in Malaysia, telling me that some of his friends were slashed with machetes in what they felt were reprisal attacks by Rohingya upset about the violence in their home land.

When I met some of them at a temple in a quiet Kuala Lumpur residential neighbourhood, I saw the fear in their eyes as they recounted witnessing a string of bloody attacks at a vast wholesale market on the outskirts of the city. Some of them were migrants; others had UNHCR refugee cards — all looking for a better life. Again, I was deeply touched.

Having worked as a correspondent in Malaysia, covering refugee issues, for almost eight years, I have written numerous articles, including on the Rohingya and others’ plight in Malaysia – which is home to more than 140,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from mostly Myanmar.

As a reporter, we want to share others’ stories and concerns with our readers, hoping to reach as many people as possible. We strive for balance and fairness, trying to portray all sides and give everyone a voice, which is sometimes difficult because one side may not want to speak up. But above all, we always collect the stories told to us – all of which touch us and stay with us.

Name: Julia Zappei

Nationality:  German


1 family torn apart by war is too many

Learn more about our work with refugees at UNHCR.org