Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Football is the word on everyone’s lips as World Cup 2018 moves towards the knockout rounds in Russia.
A few thousand kilometres away from where the action is, two Rohingya football teams faced each other in a quiet neighbourhood stadium in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
This was to bring inclusivity for their community in the country many of them have considered home for decades after fleeing their homeland.
Football is popular among the Rohingya and there exists more than 50 Rohingya football teams in Malaysia.
Although the match between Rohingya Football Club (RFC) and Rohingya Football Malaysia (RFM) ended in a 3-3 draw, the match, held during The Refugee Fest, an annual event organised in Kuala Lumpur, brought important issues to the limelight once again.
There are around 62,000 Rohingya living in Malaysia who are registered with UNHCR. However, a further 30,000 to 40,000 remain undocumented.
Malaysia has not signed the UN Convention on Refugees, but occasionally receives refugees on humanitarian grounds.
“Sports and arts are a non-threatening way of conveying a political message,” said Mahi Ramakhrisnan, founder of The Refugee Fest.
“They also give a sense of identity and self-respect to the refugees. This is important because their respective governments rob them of their dignity. The Rohingya footballers are incredibly talented and they hope to attend the 2020 edition of CONIFA World Cup in London.”
RFC was registered last year with CONIFA, the alternative World Cup for unrepresented football teams.
“This gives us a strong reason to go forward, getting not only Rohingya in Malaysia but also Rohingya players from different countries like Bangladesh, US and Australia to play for the side,” said Muhammad Nur, chairman of RFC.
“While many Rohingya live a peaceful life in Malaysia, our statelessness and lack of legal documentation does not allow us to leave the country.”