The ‘Anak Malaysia’ who had to leave the country behind

Rasyidah Yusuf with her husband Muhammad Jamal Yusof and their son Muhamad Adam Syah at their home in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: The last thing Rasyidah Yusuf, 26, wanted was to leave the only home she had ever known.

Born in Melaka to Rohingya refugees, Rasyidah, better known as Syida, grew up in Kuala Lumpur and had always wanted to be a Malaysian.

But she left Sentul for the US where she and her family would be given citizenship.

When she spoke to FMT two weeks before her flight, she had already sold many of her personal belongings and her increasingly empty house was a stark reminder of the approaching departure.

“I really love Malaysia. I understand the culture and traditions of this country, it is a part of me. But I have chosen to leave for the sake of my family,” said Syida.

Syida considered herself an “Anak Malaysia” as three generations of her family had lived here. Malaysians treated her well, and she made many friends.

Rasyidah Yusuf and her family at the airport before leaving for the US.

But she knew that life for stateless people like her would always be full of uncertainty.

“I know my place in this society,” she said, adding that she never dared to harbour ambitions as she knew she was not recognised in Malaysia.

Things changed for her when, at 13, she was offered a chance to attend school at the Dignity For Children Foundation in Sentul.

Founded 15 years ago, Dignity aims to empower children who are poor or stateless through quality education.

There, an American teacher encouraged her to be more active and outspoken, while her schoolmates helped her build her confidence.

“I really enjoyed English classes because it is fun to learn the language,” said Syida who is also fluent in Burmese, Malay and Tamil.

Dignity is also where Syida met the love of her life, Muhammad Jamal Yusof. The couple now has a four-year-old son, Muhamad Adam Syah.

Syida says Adam’s future is the most important thing to the family, and she and Jamal are ready to sacrifice everything for him.

She does not want her son to grow up having the same life as she did, which is why she and her family moved to Texas.

The family was among 160,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Over the years, human rights bodies and activists have urged Putrajaya to grant refugees the right to education and legal employment.

As Malaysia has not ratified the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, many refugees have little choice but to work in the informal sector, opening them up to risks of exploitation.