MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Friday, January 31, 2020

A refugee child’s story

Many Malaysians don’t know the suffering refugees endure. The process to make them eligible to stay in Malaysia, or to resettle them, is slow.
While they wait, their children cannot go to school. The adults cannot find jobs without being tricked, or taken advantage of. They would like to help and contribute towards our economy, but are unable to do so.
In a survey conducted last year by the Faculty of Medicine at the Sungei Buloh campus of Universiti Teknologi Mara, it was found that there were around 175,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
Children comprise 25% (48,000) of this population. Only 30% can be considered fortunate because they have access to schools. So what about the other 70% of children?
I know of a refugee family that lives in a small town near Ipoh. The family sought asylum in Malaysia 11 years ago.
The head of the family is from Jaffna province, Sri Lanka, and was a Hindu. His wife, from Kandy, was a Buddhist. They fell in love and married. The country was then at war, so they decided to flee for the safety of their family.
They were deemed to be from opposite sides of the civil conflict. He was Tamil and she was Sinhalese. Despite being close to the end of the hostilities, trouble was still evident and some people found their union unacceptable.
Through a mutual friend, I befriended a daughter of this refugee family. Sheila is 17 years old and was five when she came to Malaysia. She exudes confidence and speaks good English. She is a bright young girl and would like to be a physiotherapist.
“Why physiotherapy?” I asked.
It transpires that in a backroom lies an older sister who suffers from epilepsy. She wants to help alleviate the suffering of people like her sister, who has made several trips to the hospital for treatment.
Sheila said that life as a refugee is hard. “The government does not help us. For instance, we pay full rates at the government hospital. There is no special treatment.
“My brothers and I cannot enrol at the local government school. David, my younger brother, would like to be an engineer, but we are denied basic education.
“As we are Christian, we attend a church/refugee school, which is located in a house. The subjects are limited, but we are grateful for the help.”
Her mother stays at home to take care of her epileptic sister.
Sheila said each time her older sister is hospitalised, they fear for her life as the family has no money to pay the medical bills, despite the low government hospital charges.
She said: “We pray that we will be resettled in America, or be given Malaysian citizenship. We do not get a living allowance from the United Nations (UN) and we are grateful the church is giving us some groceries.
“Our lives are filled with uncertainty. We cannot plan. We have no access to affordable healthcare. Only the UN can say what will happen to us, but we have not heard from them. No-one tells us anything. So we wait and wait.
“In the meantime, I wish we were treated equally. I wish my sister could have better medical care and medicine. I wish there is better education for me and my brothers, and my parents can get proper jobs.
“Some Malaysians look down on us, especially after finding out we are refugees.
“At first, they think we are just Malaysian Indians, but when they realise we are refugees, they send the police to our house, even when we have done nothing wrong.
“If our neighbours discover we are refugees, some would mentally harass us or badmouth us. Sometimes, people stand in front of our homes just to stare at us.
“When Malaysian employers find out we are refugees, they reduce our pay, or pay our wages late, or even refuse to pay up. Nothing happens when we report them to the authorities.”
Refugees who possess a UN identity card can obtain a permit to work from the Immigration Department in Putrajaya.
Sheila alleges that previously, they used to face harassment from the authorities, with some refugees found working forced to pay money. They were often seen as “automated teller machines on legs”, she alleged.
Now, under this new government, this type of abuse has been reduced, although it occasionally still happens.
Sheila said: “We feel safe in Malaysia, but despair that there is no future or job security, educational opportunities or health security for the family, because of the slow pace of resolving our refugee status.
“I hope Malaysia and the UN will act fast because we only want a better future, just like other people. No more, or less. Please treat us as human beings. Don’t look down on us.” - FMT

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