As an organization providing holistic support to more than 1850 refugee families from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia in Malaysia, we would like to dedicate this message to all refugee women.
In our work, we meet refugee women from all walks of life who are in Malaysia, mostly as part of – or heading – families. They are here to seek safety for themselves and their children, but are denied protection, because in the eye of the Immigration Act they are “illegal” immigrants, as Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention . Refugees in Malaysia are not allowed to work legally, their children have no access to education, and have to pay the fees that expats pay at hospitals. Thus, when the money they have brought with them into the country is running out, it becomes very difficult for them to survive, send the children to school, or have affordable access to healthcare.
The registration with UNHCR can take up to two years. This registration provides some support and protection; resettlement is only a possibility for less than 10% of them, and the average duration until resettlement is about seven years. The UNHCR registration will provide some protection from detention for immigration offences, and UNHCR is covering 50% of the costs of medical care at government hospitals. Less than 40% of refugee children in Malaysia have access to any kind of education at schools run by NGOs and refugee communities. We have currently 380 children in our school.
In our line of work, we have come to admire the resilience of refugee women who have to deal with continued deprivation, who are struggling to provide shelter and enough food for the children, who have to manage not only their own traumas coming from the situation they had to face in their home countries before fleeing to Malaysia, but also the sometimes debilitating physical and mental traumas of the other family members, including their children.
If they are from countries where they were deprived of an education because they are women, such as the Hazaras from Afghanistan, or if they come from previously well developed and functioning education systems, such as in Syria, these mothers know the importance of education for the children. These children are our future, whether they are resettled to a third country, go back to their home country, or remain here, they need good skills and a good education to be an asset to society wherever they are.
Refugee women, often marginalized in their own countries, have to face abuse, exploitation, sexual and gender based violence, lack of sufficient food and medical care, and are facing additional problems here in Malaysia, such as not having legal access to and protection under the law.
We salute the perseverance and resilience of refugee women. We stand together with them and support their struggle for legal recognition and protection, the right to work, the right of their children for an education, access to affordable healthcare and an environment to safely raise their children and build a future for their families.
On International Women’s Day 2018
8th of March