Refugee stories of love, loss and heartbreak

In 2004, Geraldine Ang (above) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANG
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (above) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANGPHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is creased because it was hidden in clothes as their family escaped in a truck from Kabul. Geraldine Ang has been helping refugees for about eight years. A photograph of Mr Michael Ma (front row, second from left), aged about five, with his cousins and siblings in Laos.PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANG PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCHOEIB SABRI PHOTOS: : LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAI
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is creased because it was hidden in clothes as their family escaped in a truck from Kabul. Geraldine Ang has been helping refugees for about eight years. A photograph of Mr Michael Ma (front row, second from left), aged about five, with his cousins and siblings in Laos.PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANG PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCHOEIB SABRI PHOTOS: : LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAI
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is creased because it was hidden in clothes as their family escaped in a truck from Kabul. Geraldine Ang has been helping refugees for about eight years. A photograph of Mr Michael Ma (front row, second from left), aged about five, with his cousins and siblings in Laos.PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANG PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCHOEIB SABRI PHOTOS: : LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAI
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is creased because it was hidden in clothes as their family escaped in a truck from Kabul. Geraldine Ang has been helping refugees for about eight years. A photograph of Mr Michael Ma (front row, second from left), aged about five, with his cousins and siblings in Laos.PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANG PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCHOEIB SABRI PHOTOS: : LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAI
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is
In 2004, Geraldine Ang (left) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is creased because it was hidden in clothes as their family escaped in a truck from Kabul. Geraldine Ang has been helping refugees for about eight years. A photograph of Mr Michael Ma (front row, second from left), aged about five, with his cousins and siblings in Laos.PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANG PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCHOEIB SABRI PHOTOS: : LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAI

With recent reports of thousands of Rohingya boat people from Myanmar and other asylum seekers stranded in rickety boats in waters close to Singapore, the refugee issue has hit closer to home.

The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution now stands at 51.2 million globally, the highest figure since World War II, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

As a small country with limited land, Singapore will not be accepting refugees or people seeking political asylum, the Ministry of Home Affairs said last month.

However, Singapore has its fair share of individuals who worked closely with refugees, or have been refugees themselves.

SundayLife! features four such people and their stories.

venessal@sph.com.sg


Finding love in war-torn Afghanistan

A childhood photograph of Mr Schoeib Sabri (centre) with his brother Mustafa (left) and sister Maryam (right). The photo is creased because it was hidden in clothes as their family escaped in a truck from Kabul. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCHOEIB SABRI

Trainee solicitor Natasha Latiff, 27, first became intrigued by Afghanistan after reading an article when she was 12.

It described the great lengths that girls went to to receive an education under the country's hardline Taleban regime, including hiding their textbooks in sewing machines and under Quran covers.

About the same time, in 2000, she came across a video which changed her life.

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Fleeing Laos, family lost their fortune

Founder of the IndoChine group of hotels, eateries and clubs Michael Ma (above), who is a former refugee. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

A photograph of Mr Michael Ma (front row, second from left), aged about five, with his cousins and siblings in Laos. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF MICHAEL MA

When restaurateur Michael Ma left his homeland Laos, his father told him they were going on holiday in Pattaya, Thailand, a regular vacation spot for the family.

Little did the seven-year-old boy realise that they were leaving Vientiane for a refugee camp in northern Thailand - thus beginning a drastically different life which would eventually land them in Australia.

Mr Ma, 47, founder of the IndoChine group of hotels, eateries and clubs, is the fourth of five children in a well-to-do ethnic-Chinese family.

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Refugee girls behind fence shaped career choice

Geraldine Ang has been helping refugees for about eight years. -- PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

In 2004, Geraldine Ang (above) spent a year in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, working in a refugee camp which housed 10,000 people. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALDINE ANG

The Rohingya boat people crisis is a familiar one to humanitarian worker Geraldine Ang, 39, who has been helping refugees for about eight years.

She once interviewed a group of Rohingya people in 2006 in Indonesia. They were part of 70 men and boys crammed into a fishing boat which could fit only half that number.

Thin, sick and disoriented, they had fled Myanmar and had been on the high seas close to a month before they ran out of fuel.

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