Providing Hope For The Refugees

Malaysia prides itself as a country of peace, diversity and opportunity. The country is host to the largest refugee population in Southeast Asia. Refugees from Myanmar, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Afghan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Palestine have fled their own countries for reasons such as war, conflict, prosecution and the abuse of their human rights and made Malaysia their second home1. As of March 2021, there are some 178,920 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia1.

Klang Valley is home to a large population of refugees residing in the country. Unlike migrants, refugees have lost the protection of their country’s government and they are unable to return to their home country safely. The legal framework safeguarding refugees globally is the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees which contain a list of rights they are entitled to and obligations refugees have towards their host country1. Unfortunately, Malaysia has not ratified the convention and one of the biggest drawbacks is the absence of job security for refugees. Abled, talented, educated and skilled refugees are not able to obtain formal jobs.

As a result, refugees face an uphill battle trying to find their identity, footing and future in Malaysia.

Key Issues Affecting Refugees In Klang Valley

Access To Education

As this demographic is not recognized as permanent residents of Malaysia, refugee children are denied access to all forms of public education². Only 7,154 out of 23,823 refugee children (30%) are enrolled in community learning centres².

  1. Currently, there are 1,234 refugee children (14%) enrolled in preschool. 5,046 children aged 6 – 13 years old (44%) enrolled in a form of primary education, and 874 children (16%) aged 14-17 enrolled in secondary education2. Most of these children will receive education via an informal parallel system of more than 130 community-based learning centres. These centres are established by the community themselves, local NGOs, or both3. Learning centres are mostly found in rented, flats or shops, in cramped rooms. Classes will be held for four to six hours a day, five days a week3
  2. These centres are underfunded, lack proper teaching necessities and dependant on UNHCR’s assistance. Classes are usually overcrowded, and students have little to no exposure to recreational activities like sports3. The quality of education is another cause of concern. Community-based schools would often operate without a syllabus or teach a very narrow range of subjects as many of the teachers are also refugees with inadequate training. Other challenges these children face include language barriers, making it even harder to communicate with their peers and teachers.

Difficulties At Work

As Malaysia has not ratified the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, refugees residing here are unable to obtain job security⁴. Refugees are often employed for informal jobs, in low-visibility locations such as construction sites, farms and plantations instead of the services sector⁵. These kinds of opportunities are not preferred by local Malaysians, as they are dubbed dangerous, difficult and dirty⁵.

  1. Regardless of the talent, education or skill level of the refugees, they are mostly hired to take on low-skilled jobs with no prior experience or higher education requirements5. UNHCR identified that most refugees could be found in sectors such as horticulture & agriculture, construction, and cleaning sectors – followed by food, retail and manufacturing5
  2. As they cannot seek protection via a legal employment contract, refugees face ambiguous work schedules, receive late salary or no salary. It is common for them to be disregarded and subject to extreme working conditions, dangerous work environments that fall short on safety standards, unhygienic and unhealthy work and living conditions6. Depending on their bosses at work, refugees can be subject to harassment, physical and verbal abuse<sup<6.
  3. The low-skilled jobs that refugees are often hired for come with small paychecks that can barely keep them and their families afloat6. In 2018, Refugees were earning a median daily wage of RM506. A general construction worker made an average of RM 67 per day in 2017, while other specialities made more than RM 100 per day6. The refugee’s ability to converse in Malay also influences their salary, with local speakers earning more than non-speaking ones6.

Poor Living Conditions

There are no refugee camps in Malaysia, as the government makes it a point that they are not legally obligated to take care of them⁷. Upon arrival, refugees inhabit low-cost apartments throughout the country, with many families sharing one living space.

  1. The average size of a low-cost apartment in Malaysia has increased over the years. Currently it is about 800 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms8. A house of this size would comfortably fit a family of three, however, refugees share the living space with up to twenty people7. More often than not, these living spaces are lacking in more than one aspect of the living standard indicators.
  2. Refugees living in Kuala Lumpur tend to share living spaces with other refugee families, sometimes up to three families in one living space, because of the high cost of living, safety issues and the need for community8. A Chin refugee who shares a living space with 50 other people in Kuala Lumpur was more inclined to communal living despite the cramped and less than ideal living conditions9.
  3. Faced with issues of overcrowding, inconsistent electrical and drinking water supplies, problematic flooring, poor sanitation, vermin infestation and poor lighting these living conditions are far from ‘ideal’10. These living conditions also leave the tenants vulnerable to sexual abuse and physical violence9. As these communities are not protected by local laws, perpetrators are emboldened to commit the offence repeatedly.

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Providing Hopes For The Refugees

Understanding Urban Poverty

Free From Child Poverty

Combating Youth Unemployment

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