Wednesday, 30 March 2016

My neighbours

My neighbourhood is a melting pot of multi-racial, multi-status people. Malaysia is a multi-racial country, we've the Chinese, Malays, Indians and Sikhs. But now I cannot tell who are those in my neighbourhood anymore. Our society is now much more diversified than before, and includes the refugees, migrants, asylum-seekers and many stateless children. This is the reality of the global migrant and refugee crisis. It affects everybody. The local communities will also feel the social and economic impact of large refugee and migrant populations in our country.

The fact is Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Thus, the refugee and asylum-seeker groups do not have any fundamental rights, no protection and no assistance. There's no formal registration. They cannot work, move around freely, go to schools, seek medical care and have no housing. They're open to much abuse and exploitation by the authorities as well as the local communities. They can only depend on UNHCR for their protection and assistance while they're on Malaysian soil. The agency issues a UNHCR refugee card, giving an identification for refugees in Malaysia and is meant to protect them from arrest.

Our authorities do not really distinguish them from illegal migrants. A migrant is one who chooses to leave their country to seek a better life and can return to their own country if they choose to. A refugee or asylum-seeker flees their own country due to persecution. Those who seek refuge are considered as asylum-seekers and they can only be granted refugee status once their asylum claims are verified. Stateless children are those born here but without nationality, cos their parents are either refugees or asylum-seekers. 

Most of these refugees come from Myanmar. Those in my neighbourhood mainly come from an impoverished hill tribeThey're very shy and tend to mix only with their own people. During my teaching experience in a neighbourhood church, I got to know LK and her family. She's in her late teen, a very bright student, with ambition to be a doctor. Most refugee girls around her age are already married.

Few years ago, her family attended an interview at the US embassy for resettlement in the U.S. Some of their friends and relatives were already in U.S under the same programme. Nothing much came out of it. In fact, I haven't seen any successful resettlement in the last 2 years. However, with the resettlement in the back of their minds, they think of Malaysia as their transit home, and strive to learn English to improve their chances to go to U.S. Some of the more pragmatic refugees have learnt the local language and picked up some working skills. 

LK has 4 more siblings and one of them was born in Malaysia (family planning is rare!). They cannot attend the national schools, but only their community-led learning centres. Like so many other refugees, life is hard, but they're happy being with their families after all the danger and hardship that they had been through. They're grateful for little things, eg their UN cards entitle them to a 50% discount from the foreigner rates in hospital. Supposedly, the UN cards are meant to protect them from arrest. However, her father was arrested in a raid on illegal migrants last month and detained for a few weeks. This is because his UN refugee card has no legal value under the Malaysian law. Upon release, her father was so sick cos of the deplorable condition in detention centre.

During the time her father was detained, the family was left in the dark. LK and her siblings were frequently ill, and they have to be taken to hospitals for the more serious conditions. It's a hassle for them to go to the nearest government hospital, and transportation is costly. Though they're entitled to a 50% discount, but it's still a lot to them cos the refugees cannot work and thus cannot be financially independent. At the point of writing, LK's mom is fighting for her life in and out of hospital.  I'm truly appreciative for some friends, who have voluntarily donated some funds to get them through this difficult period. Even refugees also need to have the means to earn a living for themselves so that they do not have to depend solely on charity. Though Malaysia is not a signatory to key international conventions on refugees and migrants, we cannot turn a blind eye to their existence and refuse to address their problems. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...