Ted Adnan, Photographer
I had met Bosnian refugees in Malaysia years ago when I was working at a university in the 1990s, and they were very much welcomed by the Malaysian Government and given assistance. Years later, I met a boy who told me he was from Myanmar, begging for money at a café where I was eating. I bought the boy a meal and he left shortly after. Looking back on this, I see the stark contrast between the experience of these refugees and those from Bosnia back in the 1990s.
I was first asked to photograph refugees for UNHCR in Malaysia in 2006. As a photographer I try not to judge based on the first impression. I reminded myself not to get too involved with my subjects, and that I was there to document and capture pictures of refugees.
One of my earliest assignments was to photograph Myanmar refugees residing in a settlement in the jungle surrounding Putrajaya. They were refugees working as construction workers. They lived in cramped quarters using wooden planks and the dirt floor as beds. I met a gentleman who became my guide of sorts. We stopped by his shack, and there I met another younger gentleman who claimed to have university education but couldn’t find any prospects in Myanmar. I turned and ask the older gentleman whether he was planning to go elsewhere, to which he smiled and said, no, he’s working in Malaysia so he can help his families still in Myanmar.
I once met a Rohingya girl who was in a school run by a Malaysian Buddhist NGO. I know that many refugees in Myanmar face religious persecution, so it warms my heart to see in Malaysia, Malaysians and refugees of different religion are able to work together to help the community. I will always remember her smiling face when I photographed it.
These assignments opened my eyes to the plight of refugees in Malaysia, and made me see how refugees from different nationalities, due to many circumstances, had to leave their homes and everything behind and become a refugee in a foreign land.
Ted Adnan Asmadi is photographer and producer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.