These are difficult times. The world is battling a pandemic, businesses are shutting down, many have lost their jobs.
In conjunction with World Refugee Day on 20th June, we honour refugees who have risen above the crisis; who are working on the frontlines of this pandemic – healthcare workers, cleaning staff, volunteer crisis care workers, human rights activists, those seeing to the needs of their communities.
Source : UNHCR
In Malaysia, refugee artisans came together and volunteered their services to sew PPEs (personal protection equipment) for the medical frontliners, an initiative organised by Earth Heir, a fair trade social enterprise.
Picha Eats (https://pichaeats.com/en/) provides a food catering service comprising food cooked by marginalised families and refugee communities. When the lockdown brought their catering service to a halt, they switched to meals delivery to frontline staff at government hospitals.
The Somali Women’s Association Malaysia, are empowering the women in their community by teaching life-skills, sewing, art as well as language (English and Bahasa Malaysia) courses.
The imposed lockdown caused many refugees to lose their jobs, leaving them struggling to pay the rent much less feed their families. NGOs and concerned citizens rallied together to provide them food aid and personal hygiene supplies. In return, they are volunteering their services in an effort to give back to the local community. Individuals have come forward to help mobilise aid for families in need within their communities.
We can only admire their tenacity, their resilience and their unwavering kindness and faith in humankind, notwithstanding what they have gone through and more so, not knowing what lies ahead.
In countries like Malaysia, who do not recognise refugees and therefore do not afford them any legal status, refugees or those seeking asylum face the risk of arrest everyday; their children have no access to education and healthcare. Everyday is a test of survival whilst waiting for their UNHCR cards to be processed and approved. Hoping and waiting to be repatriated to a third country. Longing to go home to a peaceful country.
They face constant discrimination and harassment. They are not able to choose the jobs they want, or are trained for, as a result most end up in a 3D job – dirty, dangerous and difficult. Just to put food on the table. Their dignity is stripped away.
We need to end this xenophobia. Malaysia needs to address this situation as a humanitarian issue. They need to be recognised as human beings. As the individuals that they are, with the same hopes and dreams for their children as everyone else. They need to be given the chance to look for suitable employment and send their children to school. They need to have the right for a life of equality.
We need to understand their story, why they were forced to leave their country.
Not only on World Refugee Day, but every day.