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“After all, they are not our people and this isn’t your problem.”
This statement was uttered by a middle-aged Malaysian woman who had asked me about my involvement with helping the Chin refugee/asylum seekers’ community in Malaysia. She was rather direct in telling me that she felt that the fight to safeguard the rights, welfare and safety of the Chin community here in Malaysia was a losing one.
On 13 June 2018, UNHCR announced that it would be withdrawing refugee protection from Chin refugees/asylum seekers from Myanmar who are living in Malaysia completely by the end of 2019 on the grounds that the Chin state is now “safe” and “stable” enough for the community to return.
These claims were of course challenged and refuted by reports and statements released by international NGOs. (E.g. a report by the Chin Human Rights’ Organization )
As someone who has been working with the Chins for the past decade (I used to teach the students in some of the Chin community schools in the KL area), my heart bleeds for this community as their safety and welfare is at stake, their status upon their return to Myanmar is unknown.
Their children will not be eligible to study in Myanmar government state schools. Many of them have lost their houses and lands and have nothing to return to. The thought that this decision will affect the lives of 30,000 Chins who are now seeking refuge in Malaysia is simply heart-breaking.
In my mind, I can clearly picture the faces of the Chin students I’ve taught, and Chin teachers and friends who will be affected by this decision. If life as a refugee/asylum seeker in Malaysia on its own isn’t hard enough already, the hopelessness felt by the community has taken its toll, and some have taken their own lives out of desperation.
What can be done for this community? As a visually impaired youth worker with a Christian NGO, I do feel a great sense of helplessness. But something needed to be done.
Since last year, work to bring together different individuals and leaders of NGOs which work with the Chin refugee community and leaders of the Chin community to raise awareness about this the plight that the Chins are facing at the moment in light of this decision has commenced. This unofficial coalition know as the “Chin Refugees Concern Group” are currently working hard on raising public awareness and creating a voice for this otherwise voiceless community.But it’s an uphill battle, and time is not on our side.
While we’re thankful that this issue has received some media coverage (We’re especially thankful for R.AGE The Star, for producing a 10-episode documentary highlighting the struggles faced by the Chin community in light of this decision), many Malaysians are still unaware or indifferent about the plight which plagues this peace-loving community. Some, like the woman I mentioned at the beginning of the story are even hostile and unwelcoming towards them, regardless of the fact that the Chin, and other refugee/asylum seeker communities actually contribute to the country’s growth by providing the much-needed work force in various sectors in Malaysia (whether we like to admit it or not).
My appeal to my fellow Malaysians is that we open our eyes to the refugee/asylum community around us. They are the silent faces we see who serve us in restaurants, who attend to us when we shop in stores and who labour in factories. They too, have a story to tell. My plea is that we too, turn a listening ear and extend a helping hand towards the Chin community.
In the photo: The writer (who is visually impaired), with her former student from a Chin community school, Kim Te (left), and James Bawi, coordinator of Alliance of Chin Refugees, Malaysia a Chin-community organization (right) at The R.AGE’s Official Screening of the documentary series “Refugees No More” and Town Hall event on Sat, Oct 27, 2018.
Story by: Marianne Liaw, Volunteer Representative with the Chin Refugees Concern Group,Representative office: Alliance of Chin Refugees Malaysia,No 56, 2nd floor, off Jalan Pudu,Jalan Brunei Utara,55100 Pudu, KL+6016-6222967 (mobile)