Monday, July 18, 2016

‘Give foreign child beggars access to schools’

Activist James Nayagam says it is part of Malaysia's obligation, after signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to look after the interests of these children.

PETALING JAYA: Children of immigrants and refugees have no choice but to beg for their survival, according to child rights advocate James Nayagam.

“Malaysia has not signed the Refugee Convention so the foreigners cannot work here and their children cannot go to school here,” he told FMT.

“So what do they do? They need to live, and most of them can’t go back to their country of origin. The Rohingyas, for example, can’t go back to Myanmar because of the genocide going on.

“So their parents send them out to beg just so they can survive.”

The 1951 Refugees Convention is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant the asylum.

Nayagam pointed out that it was not the children’s fault that they were here in the first place as they were either unaccompanied minors or had come with their parents.

He added that though Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obligates the country to take the best interests of any child into consideration.

“What is in the best interests of any child is education, healthcare and registration in terms of registering their births.

“For these foreign children, we need to allow them to go to school and become useful members of society.”

He added that currently there were 2,000 children in immigration detention centres.

“If the authorities manage to catch these foreign child beggars, then what are they going to do with them? These centres are already overflowing and it is certainly not in the best interests of the children to keep them there.”

When contacted, Klang MP Charles Santiago agreed with Nayagam’s solution for the child beggars.

“Poverty is pushing them to beg. It would be helpful if the government provides financial support through NGOs to provide meals and clothing, including education for children.”

He added that in the long run, adult beggars could be employed as some of them had skills that companies can use.

“We have a choice. Provide skills and make them productive members of society or allow them to continue begging.”

According to a recent report by StarMetro, foreign child beggars have apparently been moving from their regular spots in Klang town to areas in Shah Alam and traffic light junctions at the exit to highways.

Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad told FMT that handling these children was not the responsibility of the state governments but agreed that something had to be done to solve the issue.

“We need to take them in and find out their details because for all we know they might be taken advantage of by illegal syndicates and so on,” he said.

He also agreed that it was important to look into the alternative of sending the children to schools.

“Once we know their details, there are several things we can do. Sending them to schools is one of the options because if something is not done for these children soon, then they can grow up to be thieves or terrorists or so on.”


Malaysian police arrested Zafar for illegal entry, and deported him back to Thailand, where he was arrested…for illegal entry… and sent to jail before being deported back to Myanmar (again). Knowing that he faced death back in Myanmar, he managed to convince the boatman to….send him back to Malaysia instead. After much struggling (including one more arrest, deportation, and prison sentence), he finally made his way to Kuala Lumpur through an agent.

But although he made it to Malaysia, Zafar tells us that he was deported, not once or twice, but…

He was deported from Malaysia for a total of… 12 times!

Yes, in the span of 7 years (1996-2003), less time than most of us take to finish primary school, Zafar was arrested, deported, and made it back to Malaysia 12 times, an average of 1.7 times a year. Every single time he was deported, he was sent to Thailand, and he made his way back via a human trafficking operation which he had to pay (prices varied from RM1200 – RM2150, depending on the trafficker).

If they had no money? Well…

“If we didn’t have money, they would beat us. In some cases, they even shot to death some of us with a pistol. They would threaten us to pay them all we had, or they would send us back to Myanmar.” – Zafar

In addition to risking his life just to pass the Thailand-Malaysian border, he also had to risk his life travelling from the border to KL, including hiding in the backs of trucks and being stuffed into car boots where he almost suffocated to death. He couldn’t stay in Thailand because it was too close to Myanmar, and Malaysia was his only hope for survival, enough for him to risk his life every single time to make it back into Malaysia.

He asked the UN for help when he was in Malaysia, but wasn’t acknowledged as a refugee

Zafar continued the fight for his fellow Rohingyans by establishing the Myanmar Ethic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM) in 1998. In the year 2000, Zafar approached the Malaysian chapter of the UNHCR for help and to request for Refugee status.

After listening to his story, UNHCR refused to acknowledge Zafar as a refugee because he couldn’t sufficiently prove that he was deserving of refugee status.

To be fair, it’s not that the UNHCR doesn’t like him or anything. There is actually an application to be recognized as a refugee, and Zafar failed the application process the first time because he failed to produce the necessary documents for registration (birth cert, IC, passport, etc). This requirement is especially troublesome for Rohingyans as the Myanmarese government revoked their IDs and documentations. However, after appealing to the UNHCR to review his application, he finally got himself registered as a refugee. But that’s not the end of his problems…

Unfortunately, because he’s a refugee, Zafar cannot own any property, business, or vehicle, secure a legal job, and has no access to basic amenities such as government healthcare or schools, even though he legally married a Malaysian wife. (His wife, his father-in-law, and himself had to beg the Registration Department with tears in their eyes multiple times in order to get married, and after being constantly rejected, a kind-hearted Perak mufti finally agreed to legally marry him and his wife under Islamic law, making their marital status legal).

In fact, a doctor friend from a local gov hospital told us a heartbreaking story about the plight of refugees in Malaysia who are not part of the “privileged class”:

“I have seen pregnant women who are already in the beginnings of labour being turned away from government hospitals because they couldn’t afford to pay and were not eligible for government facilities when they had no proper documentations.

I’ve overruled the medical staff multiple times and told them to get the OT (operating theatre) ready so I could save the mother and child. As to who was going to pay, that was not my primary concern.”- Anonymous doctor friend

This makes Mr. Zafar’s story all the more amazing. As an unrecognized refugee, he managed to set up MERHROM, have an income through a kedai runcit and gerai makanan (both under his wife’s name), bring attention the ASEAN and UN leaders as to the plight of the refugees, and even managed to help Malaysians when they needed it. (Fun fact: MERHROM raised and donated RM25,000 worth of goods to the Kelantan flood victims of 2015!) His efforts has also been internationally recognized, with organizations from Hong Kong, Korea, UK and the US inviting him over to give him awards, but he is unable to attend and receive such awards(and speaking engagements) because he doesn’t have travel documents.

There are more than 154,000 refugees currently in Malaysia, most of whom live without basic rights and protection. While most of us think it can lead to increased crime rates, this is actually not true. In fact, the UNHCR actually makes it a point to screen all asylum-seekers before accepting them into the country, and that those who commit crimes are not eligible for refugee status, so there is a huge incentive for refugees to follow the law in Malaysia.

In fact, according to our Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, only 1% of all crimes in Malaysia are committed by them, though he did also say that we shouldn’t make the issue worse by hiring them, sheltering them, or renting properties out to them. 

Mr. Zafar disagrees however:

“We’re not asking for sympathy or for donations. All we ask if that we be given a legal identity, so that we can find work to provide for ourselves, for our children to go to schools, and for us to build a life."

We have a lot that we want to contribute to Malaysia, and we love Malaysia, because she has provided for us a hope and a life again. I ask that Malaysians and the Malaysian government just give us a chance.“

What can we do then?

Well, we could write to our MPs to bring the matter of Malaysia’s treatment of refugees up to Parliament, andlobby our government to formally sign the UN Convention of Refugees. Additionally, you could also donate to organizations like the UNHCR or MERHROM (they need money and supplies like rice, toiletries, etc); contact themhere to set up a donation time that is appropriate. If you own a business, perhaps you could consider giving refugees a chance to be fairly employed in your organization as well. Together, we can work to make Malaysia a welcoming second home to those who have unfortunately lost theirs.

Three Burmese Migrants Killed in Malaysia

Three Burmese migrant workers were killed and one was wounded early this morning in Malaysia’s northern Penang state, according to local sources.

“They shouted for help when they saw robbers trying to burglarize a neighbor’s house, and then the robbers went into their house and killed them,” said Maung Zaw, a member of Penang’s funeral service organization.

He said that the three workers were killed at 6:30 a.m. When the funeral service team went to see the bodies, police informed them they would be unable to hold a funeral while there was an ongoing investigation.

Sources said the four victims, who were from Mandalay Division’s Pyawbwe Township, were stabbed in Penang’s industrial zone.

Hundreds of Burmese migrant workers live in Penang’s industrial zone, many of them illegal migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who work dangerous jobs in factories and on construction sites. Due to lack of proper documentation, they often face arrest, detentions and deportation by the Malaysian authorities.

An official from the Burmese Embassy in Malaysia who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy that the embassy would investigate the incident and issue a statement later this evening.

The official added that the killing was not prompted by religious tension, after it had spread on social media that the attack might have been related to strain between Burma’s Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Many hundreds of Burmese Refugees and Migrants have been killed in Malaysia for the past 15 years. 

After 20 years in a refugee camp, Burmese family starts new life in B.C.

A group of residents from Qualicum Beach, B.C. spent several hours at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday evening anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Burmese refugee family they had privately sponsored. 

Sitting on the ground at the arrivals gate the group of volunteers knew little about the people they were about to meet. 

"We know that there is eight people — five children and three adults. We know that they're coming from a refugee camp in Thailand and we know that they wanted to come to Canada. That is all we know," said Carol Doering, one of the volunteers.

Interpreter Hserchri Trawgaye explains to the refugee family what is happening and where they will go next. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"We're here wondering what they'll be like and they're probably thinking what we are going to be like" said Doering. 

"I feel apprehensive, nervous, excited and curious about what will happen next and concerned for the family that this will be such an overwhelming process for them," said Chris Ferris, another volunteer and Qualicum Beach resident. 

The youngest in the family is 4 years old and could not stop smiling after receiving a Canadian flag and stuffed animal. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The Burmese refugee family of Karen ethnicity had spent 20 years living at Mae La refugee camp in Thailand. The children aged four to 16 were all born inside the camp.

The camp was established in 1984 after thousands of villages were burned to the ground during an armed conflict and ethnic persecution by the Burmese government. 

"The children will have no experience outside of a jungle camp. Never seen much in terms of vehicles, airplanes, concrete buildings, glass towers, people," said Doering. 

The children hold a banner that reads 'Welcome to Canada' in the refugee family's language (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Finally, the refugee family walked through the gates and soon enough the nerves from both sides were replaced with hello's and introductions. 

The volunteers introduced themselves through an interpreter and handed Canadian flags and stuffed animals to the children. 

Speaking through interpreter Hserchri Trawgaye — who is also from Burma and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand — the mother of the young children said they are very happy to be in Canada.

When asked what it was like to fly on an airplane, she described it as being in a house that is flying. 
What to do in Qualicum Beach? 

The refugee family will spend the night in Vancouver before taking a ferry over to Qualicum Beach, a town located on Vancouver Island with a population of almost 9,000 people. 

"I think they will feel at home there," said Doering. 

Qualicum Beach is a smaller community that is not often a go-to place for refugees and it also the oldest population of any community in Canada. 

"Definitely they're coming to a community that is known for its retirement scene," she said. 

Hserchri Trawgaye lives in Vancouver but is originally from Burma and also lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. She will follow the family to Qualicum Beach to help them settle in. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

But Doering hopes the green scenery of the town will make the family feel at home. 

After the family has settled in, the focus will be on teaching them English and helping them adjust to life in Canada, which may include anything from teaching them how to use a stove or go grocery shopping. 

"I hope they just try and be a family. Walk around, feel a sense that there is no barbed wires. You can walk the streets, you're safe," said volunteer Anna Grieve. 

The children will be attending school come September and the parents will be given an opportunity to work at a Thai restaurant or work on a farm, as they have in the past. 
It all started with a house

The entire journey began in January, when the town of Qualicum Beach put out a request for ideas on what to do with a former RCMP station that was sitting empty. 

Chris Ferris and her husband came up with the idea to use the house for a refugee family. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"We were out walking by the house and thought, maybe the town would be interested in giving that house to refugees," said Chris Ferris, who came up with the idea with her husband one night. 

After a town meeting was held the plan was approved and the sponsorship process began. 

Volunteers and residents of Qualicum Beach get the house ready for the refugees to move into once they arrive. (Qualicum Refugee Sponsorship Group/Facebook)

But the volunteer group was expecting a Syrian refugee family, not a family from Burma, also known as Myanmar. 

"I think that was everyone's expectation because that's what was in the news and you didn't hear about other families," said Doering, adding that the group wasn't really concerned about where the family would be from. 

The refugee family will be able to live at the house rent free for 18 months, with the volunteer group covering the cost of utilities.

UN Conducts Last Call for Burmese Refugees Hoping to Resettle in US

RANGOON — The United Nation’s (UN) refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is conducting a “last call” resettlement initiative for Burmese refugees living in Thailand who wish to resettle in the United States.

The initiative will allow unregistered refugees to reunite with their immediate families in the United States. Typically, refugees who have not registered with the UNHCR are not eligible for third country resettlement.

“This is a one-time exercise taking place only in July,” said UNHCR senior field coordinator Iain Hall.

“It is a last chance for a previously identified group of individuals who had already indicated interest in joining their immediate families in the US,” he said.

The initiative is being carried out in nine camps in Thailand where an estimated 120,000 Burmese refugees live. The UNHCR will prepare a submission to the Thai government for their consideration; however, this initiative is not part of the refugee repatriation process, according to the agency.

Hall said that the purpose of this activity was to reconfirm their intention to resettle, but the process does not guarantee their registration by the Thai government and therefore does not guarantee resettlement.

Eligible unregistered refugees are those whose immediate family members—such as spouses or minor children—were registered refugees who resettled in the US group resettlement program that ended in 2013.

Vivian Tan, a UNHCR spokeswoman, told The Irrawaddy that registered refugees could still apply for resettlement, but that interest in third country resettlement had declined in this group over the years.

MEF: Employment for refugees - comprehensive study and framework needed

KUALA LUMPUR: Any proposal to allow refugees to work in this country requires a comprehensive study and framework as it has the potential of giving rise to new problems.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director, Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said if refugees were allowed to work legally in the country, it might result in more refugees coming here.

Thus, he said, an inclusive solution to address the issue of refugees' employment was needed without compromising the humanitarian aspects.

"We are worried, if we allow them (refugees) to work here legally, it will contribute to the influx of refugees and migrants into this country, and it will surely create new problems," he told Bernama when contacted today.

Currently, there are some 151,560 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

Malaysia is not a state party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol, thus the country does not recognise the refugees' status including the right of working.

"Based on the existing law, it is an offence for an employer to employ any refugee and legal action can be taken against the employer," said Shamsuddin.

"They (refugees) are productive and disciplined workers. That is why we see many companies willing to hire them.

"We understand that if the refugees are not given the chance to work, they will opt to work illegally and this will create new social problems and of course we don't want this ... that is why a solution is needed fast," he said.

Universiti Malaya's Department of Development Studies senior lecturer, Dr Lee Hwok Ann said if the refugees were not allowed to work formally in the country, it could drive them to illegal and undesirable activities.

He said employment of refugees would bring benefits to the economy of the country and help fill vacancies, especially jobs that the locals shunned.

"Employing refugees can generate significant benefits like new skills and knowledge, add diversity and at the same time, contribute to the national income," he said. — Bernama

TBHF donates $150,000 to support Rohingya, Iraqis

SHARJAH: The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF) a Sharjah-based global humanitarian charity dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide, has donated Dhs550,000 ($150,000) to support Rohingya refugees in Malaysia and displaced people in Iraq.

Distributed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, the funds will be used to help overcome the recipients’ challenging circumstances and difficult living conditions.

Approximately $82,000 of the donation will go towards helping displaced people in Iraq, with $68,000 given to assist Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. Coinciding with Eid Al Fitr, the organisers of THBF’s humanitarian contribution say that it is being given to help inspire optimism and hope in those who have been forced to leave their homes through conflict or persecution and to share with them the blessings of Eid.

"TBHF's cash donations are made in line with the vision of the wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Big Heart Foundation, and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, to improve the living conditions of refugees worldwide and enable them to lead a life of dignity. We sought through this donation to support these vulnerable people living under extremely difficult circumstances and to share the joy of Eid with them," said Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of Salam Ya Seghar, a TBHF initiative to improve the welfare of refugee children.

Speaking about Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, Al Hammadi said: "The Big Heart Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering of Rohingya refugees who are living under extremely challenging conditions. This is not the first time that the foundation has made a donation towards them. 

In July 2015, The Big Heart Foundation donated Dhs1 million to support UNHCR's efforts in assisting these displaced people, following the rise in the number of Rohingyas leaving Myanmar because of violence and persecution."

She continued: "Sheikha Jawaher has reiterated her commitment to closely following up the issue of Myanmar refugees, especially children, who according to UNHCR data account for 20 percent of the total refugees in Malaysia. She also underlined the need to reunite children who have been separated from their parents, in addition to urgently providing them with education and healthcare."

During the visit of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi to UNHCR's Harmony Refugee Learning Centre in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in May, Her Highness pledged through the Big Heart Foundation and in coordination with UNHCR to explore new mechanisms and expand the scope of services provided to refugees, so as to ensure their fundamental rights.

With respect to Iraq, Al Hammadi highlighted that there are nearly 120,000 internally displaced persons living in 12 camps in Dohuk Governorate and cited reports that indicate that the capacity of these camps is not sufficient to host all the internally displaced people. She stated that outside of these camps, the majority of displaced persons are scattered in hundreds of informal slum dwellings that lack basic standards to provide for decent living, which only adds to the ordeal they have already endured.

In June 2015, Sheikha Jawaher launched TBHF to coincide with World Refugee Day. It followed the decision issued by her to transform what was then The Big Heart Campaign into a global humanitarian foundation. The move was aimed at redoubling efforts to help refugees and people in need worldwide, with the new foundation adding significantly to the UAE's rich portfolio and long record of humanitarian initiatives regionally and globally.