By Karisma Putera and Simraatraj Kaur Dhillon, Research & Advocacy Analyst of Bait Al Amanah
IN light of World Refugee Day today, we would like to celebrate and honour the strength and courage of refugees around the globe, as well as their resilience in rebuilding their lives.
The day is designated as such by the United Nations’ Refugee Agency to focus global attention on the plight of people fleeing conflict or persecution. In the past year, negative perceptions towards refugees have amplified during times of crisis. This day offers a chance to raise awareness about the plight of refugees around the world and of efforts to protect their human rights.
Authorities tend to pursue punitive measures targeting refugees. In Malaysia, the deeper problem is rooted in the lack of distinction between refugees and undocumented migrants; inconsistencies in government policies towards refugees do not help matters.
Labelling refugees as “illegal immigrants” leads to them suffering a lack of security in all aspects of their lives and exposes them to grave protection risks on a daily basis. Malaysia must start to recognise the courage and perseverance of refugees in the country. We must advocate for a more inclusive society where we can celebrate the stories, histories, cultures, languages and lives of refugees.
Accepting, protecting and empowering refugees is a win-win formula for the refugees themselves and for Malaysia. By providing them with the right to work, to healthcare and to education, refugees can quickly integrate into the labour force and become productive members of society.
More importantly, accepting refugees protects the most precious right of all: the right to live.
Moving forward, the government should be encouraged to put strategies in place to build a more inclusive and welcoming society, in addition to raising awareness and understanding of refugee issues in Malaysia.
Turning our backs on refugees in many cases is a violation of fundamental human rights. World Refugee Day provides an opportunity for communities to recognise and understand the challenges that refugees face in Malaysia.