An Interview With Colin Laltanpuia: Producer of the “Chin Up Project – Where do you see yourself in 2020?”

Colin himself is a Chin refugee who attended Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Kuala Lumpur, graduating with a diploma in Event Production.

On 13 June 2018, UNHCR Malaysia announced that they had determined Myanmar to be safe for ethnic Chin refugees to return to, after suffering years of conflict and persecution. Refugee protection for the ethnic Chin comes to an end on 31 Dec 2019. Some 15,000 ethnic Chin refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia are affected by this new policy. Many of them have lived here for years. Children who were born and educated in Malaysia, now are told to “return home”.

In March 2019 the UNHCR reversed its decision, saying that Chin refugees in Malaysia would retain their refugee status due the worsening security situation in southern Chin state. Colin Laltanpuia arrived in Malaysia in 2010 by smuggling himself over the Thai and Malaysian borders. Over the course of eleven days, he travelled over land and river, often hiding during the day and walking during the night. He considers himself a very lucky refugee.

Tell us about why you left Mayanmar in 2010 and how you settled into Malaysia?

I left Myanmar because of the worsening conflict and lack of opportunities for Chin people. When I arrived in Malaysia I was lucky that I could stay with my cousin, who was already here. I registered with UNHCR as a refugee and I managed to get jobs working in hotels and restaurants.

You had the opportunity to attend Limkokwing University, how did this happen and what opportunity did it give you?

UNHCR  office coordinated a programme with Limkokwing University to provide a full scholarship. Out 0f more than 100 candidates only 30 were chosen including myself. I was one of the lucky ones, but without the sponsorship from “KL working ladies to cover accommodation and transport”, I would not have been able to attend. I owe them a special debt. In 2015 I graduated from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology with a diploma in Event Production. Limkokwing no longer offers this sponsorship programme to Chin refugees, however.

When did your interest in filmmaking start and what was your interest in developing the “Chin Up Project”?

This was always my hobby and I had a dream that I wanted to be a film director and produce full length movies. I am especially interested in filming subjects about people and their emotions. I was gifted a DSLR camera by a kind expatriate. With that gift, I began making music videos and short films with my Chin friends.

  Hoping for a better future for the next generation

When we heard of UNHCR’s decision to revoke our refugee status we were shocked and if we were returned home, we had nothing to go back to. The Chin Up Project is my way of understanding how my people – the Chin people – feel about this decision. And to show their feelings to the world.

The Chin up project has been described as a “multimedia platform for ethnic Chin refugees to voice out their dreams for the year 2020”. What are your thoughts?

The project was filmed over two months and we filmed more than sixty ethnic Myanmar Chins throughout Malaysia. The idea was to share their dreams and feelings for 2020, as according to UNHCR, our refugee status would terminate in December 2019. The responses from the community varies from a 12-year-old sharing her ambition of becoming a doctor, to a 56-year-old man’s wish for Chin children to receive education and hoping for a better future for the next generation.

What did you hope to achieve through highlighting their stories?

We wanted to tell the stories of their dreams and ask the question: “where would you like to be in 2020?”. I felt sad listening to the stories from my community because, like me, they are stuck between going back to Myanmar and not being able to resettle in a third country.

I hoped that the project will raise their profile, get support for our refugee status and let the world  know of our difficult situation in Malaysia.

In March 2019 the UNHCR reversed its decision due the worsening security situation in the Chin homeland. Do you feel that action taken by the Chin refugees including the “Chin Up Project” played a part in changing the authority’s decision?

We were all so happy with the outcome and now we don’t need to worry about being returned to Myanmar, but we are not sure when we will get resettled some say one year, others three years, so we are still not sure of our future. The project helped a lot in raising public attention, more than three thousand people sent emails to “Chin Up Project” and this raised awareness of our refugee status in Malaysia.

Although Chin refugees have won the right to remain in Malaysia as refugees, do the majority of Chin refugees want to remain in Malaysia? What are some of the key challenges in doing so?

As far as I know, most Chin refugees don’t want to remain in Malaysia and would rather be resettled overseas. In Malaysia it is difficult to get employment, education and healthcare, but it is a safe and secure country.

What action is the Chin community taking to help themselves, besides relying on NGOs?

As one NGO said: “nobody wants to be a refugee and nobody wants handouts. We must give them the tools so that they can go on to build better lives for themselves, and they will add so much value to the country.” I strongly believe that education is the key to developing Chin society so they can help themselves and contribute. However, currently Chin refugees in Malaysia have little access to formal education.

Do you have any further film or other projects in mind to support Chin Community in Malaysia?

I do not have another project at the moment, but I have applied for a grant to produce a documentary on the life story of a Chin child who was sold to the military as a soldier and escapes Myanmar to become a refugee in Malaysia.

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