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The reasons for the Acehnese migrating to Malaysia

 The arrival of the Acehnese to Pulau Pinang is not much different from the arrival of the Acehnese in Kuala Lumpur. Based on several interviews with Acehnese, there are several reasons and ways they arrived in Malaysia.

First, because of the conflict that plagued Aceh for more than 30 years. This reason is indeed significant to be explored further. Because since the conflict began in the 1980s, Malaysia has become the most targeted place for Acehnese. 

Due to not being allowed to carry out separatist activities and threats from the Indonesian government, they finally made Malaysia a place to formulate a strategy to separate Aceh from Indonesia. Their arrival to Malaysia was due to security issues in Aceh, causing them to come in groups to Aceh.

 Those who came in waves landed themselves in Klang. Here they have to swim up to tens or even hundreds of meters from the beach. However, some come officially, then use Malaysia as a transit point before leaving for Libya or Europe. In Malaysia, they set up bases in several places to develop a strategy to separate themselves from Indonesia.

The pattern that came in the way above, finally one that started to survive in Malaysia. They started life in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur city. The area of ​​Kuala Lumpur that has become the most popular location for mobilizing actions to secede from Indonesia is Kayu Ara. 

Here the Acehnese who came to Malaysia gathered, although some later did not think about war but tried to survive in Malaysia. One example is Abang Rahman, who was in Libya and did fundraising in Malaysia. He then served as a liaison between the Libyan and Malaysian groups. The strength of the Aceh separatist movement in Malaysia is well known. Therefore, those who come will first intend to fight for Aceh and then try to survive in Malaysia.

Second, looking for a better life in the economy. The second reason is the most common. Because in Aceh, there is no proper place to work. Therefore, if some relatives or friends have lived in Kuala Lumpur for a long time, the Acehnese youth will only leave with pocket money as long as they arrive at Chow Kit. 

They are the “boat people” from Aceh who later became successful businessmen today. One of the Acehnese in Malaysia said that he never imagined that he would arrive in Malaysia at the beginning of his life. 

However, once he arrived in Kuala Lumpur, he started selling anything as long as he could survive. He stays on the side of the road, without a clear direction in life which is where the emotional nature of fellow Acehnese emerges.

Helping each other for the first time could be because of one village in Aceh. Here loyalty is measured from the kinship system. The most valuable thing in this business network is the information and trust of the suppliers of goods, who are almost all Chinese

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They already know each other’s origins. So that the level of trust in doing business can begin, for those who have been successful in business, their fellow villagers will be asked to maintain the grocery store.

 After that, if he has served for several years, then the owner of the grocery store will provide capital to his colleague to open his grocery store. Here business capital is not to buy goods but money to rent shops and initial capital to attract suppliers of goods.

One of the economic activities of Aceh immigrants is selling herbs. Apart from opening grocery stores, Acehnese in Kuala Lumpur and Penang have opened herbal medicine shops. Here, they also have their network based in Kuala Lumpur.

 In one of the herbal shops in Penang, it was told that the seller had been in Malaysia since the 1980s. He is one of the supporters of GAM who lives in Malaysia. However, his activity is selling herbs which never lures him into telling the history of the struggle of Aceh. It must be acknowledged that since GAM erupted in 1976, not a few Acehnese have moved from their hometowns to Penang. 

In this state, many Aceh residents are from East Aceh. For those who did not have time to go to Libya, Malaysia became the most “safe” place to take refuge from the pursuit of Indonesian military. 

This economic reason then made the Aceh diaspora, not only in Kuala Lumpur but also in Penang. Abang Reman came to Penang in 1987. Then he sold anything until he met a girl from Java. Then they got married and had a daughter. His brother and wife already have permanent residence, while their 18 -year -old daughter is a Malaysian citizen and has copied herself as “Malay.” 

This girl seems to be still proud to have blood from other countries but at the same time has Malaysian citizenship. Abang Reman said he did not want to change citizenship because he and his family wanted to return to Indonesia one day, but not to Aceh.

 According to his daughter, his mother, who is Javanese, did not want to live in Aceh. Therefore, Abang Reman bought assets in Medan, hoping that if he could no longer live in Taman Pelangi, he would return to Indonesia. 

His son, who has become a “Malay,” does not set the choice whether to return to Aceh, Medan, or Java. When asked how his friends behaved at school, he said that his friends were jealous because he could return to his hometown every year.

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Third, because they want to continue their studies, this goal is very dominant, especially during the conflict in Aceh. Many young people in Aceh decided to continue their studies in Malaysia. Because if you are in Aceh during the conflict, it will trigger problems, both with the Indonesian government and GAM. 

Those who come to Malaysia to study are not initially because there is a scholarship program. They can be said to be “free jumpers.” This goal ultimately leads to students who focus on their studies and ultimately succeed. There are also students whose study aims are sided jobs. 

Because for them, the most important thing is to get a visa to earn a living in Malaysia. Aceh students are scattered in several reputable universities in Malaysia, namely IIUM (International Islamic University of Malaysia), UM (University of Malaya), UKM (National University of Malaysia), and USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia).

 After the Tsunami, some Aceh students have also started enrolling at UUM (Universiti Utara Malaysia) in Kedah.

Acehnese students received “special attention” from the above campus officials. For example, at IIUM, Acehnese students received scholarships thanks to Abi Wilmot (a British Muslim who married an Acehnese). He helped by including several Acehnese students at the S-2 level. At that time, scholarships at this campus were very common and easy to get. Acehnese students can study and gain knowledge at the famous campus. 

Several IIUM alumni are now in Aceh. They became famous figures in the Veranda of Mecca. Apart from Abi Wilmot, the role of Tan Sri Sanusi Junid (former Minister of Kedah and Minister of Agriculture of Malaysia) cannot be ruled out in providing opportunities for Acehnese youth. They are allowed to study in an international atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Acehnese students were also given convenience at other campuses because of the conflict and tsunami issues. The wave of arrivals of Acehnese students to Malaysia finally entered the KBA (Aceh Scholarship Commission) program, where some of Aceh’s best sons continued their studies at campuses in Malaysia. 

They tend not to like studying on the island of Java because it is considered the island that colonized Aceh today. Another factor is the emotional and historical closeness between Aceh and Malaysia. 

Therefore, it is not surprising that some people “free fall” and become successful traders in Kuala Lumpur. However, some of them cannot complete their studies due to persistence in studying.

The phenomenon of the arrival of Acehnese students to Malaysia has also finally caused the image of education in Malaysia to be increasingly recognized in Aceh. Some even compare the quality of education in Malaysia with Indonesia. 

However, because of the situation in Aceh, they still wanted to continue their studies in the Malay country. If they go to Java without having educational assistance, it will not be easy. Because in Java, they cannot make a living like in Malaysia.

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 Therefore, it is not surprising that in recent years, alumni of Malaysian campuses have started to rise in creatively competing with alumni from Java and abroad (other than Malaysia). 

Thus, it is inevitable that the conflict in Aceh has brought a “blessing” for intellectual development in Aceh itself, wherein a situation of complete compulsion, those who study in Malaysia have been able to show positive results for education in Aceh.

The Acehnese diaspora in Tanah Melayu has been presented. The historical and socio-cultural aspects cannot be denied when examining the diaspora aspect. The Acehnese have made Tanah Melayu a place of contestation to maintain life.

 In the last 30 years, the migration of Acehnese to Tanah Melayu has been driven more by internal problems in Indonesia. Problems of conflict, work, and education are problems that exist in this country. In the history of conflicts in the world, humans will continue to look for lands that can be inhabited to maintain their lives. 

Sometimes, the spirit of these immigrants is more robust than that of the local people. Thus, they are often more successful than the local community. An example of this success can be seen in the history of the migration of the Acehnese to Malaya. Many of them then donated their spiritual and intellectual energy to build the lands they had come to before.

The contemporary history of the arrival of the Acehnese to Malaysia also impacts their pattern of competition with the local community and with other communities who come to earn a living in this country. 

Therefore, the history of migration should not be interpreted as a history of heartbreak but as part of the process of human life in interpreting hijrah. Aspects of cultural acculturation become a necessity. They can stay in touch with various ethnic groups in Malaysia. 

These relationships, in principle, provide the foundation for aspects of cosmopolitanism practiced by immigrants in Malaysia. Therefore, this chapter has provided an initial portrait of the cosmopolitan phenomenon among the Acehnese. 

However, for Acehnology enthusiasts, it is necessary to continue to develop social humanities research on the lives of Acehnese in Malaysia. This study model can explain the history of migration of Acehnese to Medan and Jakarta

In principle, the study of the Acehnese diaspora will give color to the knowledge of Acehnology itself. So far, the model of this study has not been very prominent because there is no assumption that the Acehnese in Tanah Seberang is an influential social group for Tanah Aceh. Studies of social networks and intellectual networks between Aceh and Malaysia need to be encouraged. 

Kamaruzzaman Bustamam Ahmad

Kamaruzzaman Bustamam-Ahmad (KBA) has followed his curiosity throughout life, which has carried him into the fields of Sociology of Anthropology of Religion in Southeast Asia, Islamic Studies, Sufism, Cosmology, and Security, Geostrategy, Terrorism, and Geopolitics. KBA is the author of over 30 books and 50 academic and professional journal articles and book chapters. His academic training is in social anthropology at La Trobe University, Islamic Political Science at the University of Malaya, and Islamic Legal Studies at UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta. He received many fellowships: Asian Public Intellectual (The Nippon Foundation), IVLP (American Government), Young Muslim Intellectual (Japan Foundation), and Islamic Studies from Within (Rockefeller Foundation). He is based in Banda Aceh and can be reached at ceninnets@yahoo.com.au

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