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World Refugee Day: ‘Solidarity with refugees – For a world where refugees are welcomed’

Sydney World Refugee Day march - FILE PHOTO: PETER BOYLE

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The UN has designated 20 June as World Refugee Day to commemorate the courage and strength of refugees around the world who are forced to flee their home countries due to conflict or persecution.

World Refugee Day allows us to recognise the rights, needs and aspirations of refugees, and the challenges they face.

It is hoped that such an awareness would garner the much-needed political will and resources to provide refugees with the opportunity to not only survive, but also to live with dignity in whichever country they are seeking refuge and asylum.

As at the end of May 2024, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia has registered a total of 189,340 refugees and asylum seekers.

Of this number, 166,290 are from Myanmar, including 109,230 Rohingyas; and 23,040 refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in 50 countries, including Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Palestine and other countries.

The theme for World Refugee Day this year is “Solidarity with refugees – For a world where refugees are welcomed”.

We are called to be proactive and to respond with compassion and humanity towards this vulnerable group of people. There is a need to be in solidarity with refugees – this includes extending our doors to them and providing readily available resources to support them.

Being in solidarity with refugees also means providing them with opportunities to thrive and prosper in their adopted communities.

Despite numerous calls for the legal protection of refugees in Malaysia, we still do not have an adequate legal and administrative framework in place to legitimise and safeguard refugees within our borders.

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As a result, everyday life for a refugee in Malaysia is a struggle. For instance, refugees are not legally allowed to work, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

Malaysia is also not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

As such, refugees in Malaysia are a marginalised people group who are deprived of fundamental human rights such as the right to work, the right to education and the right to healthcare. They are forced to live under constant risk of arrest and detention.

Refugees and asylum seekers are no less human than we are and deserve to be treated with equal dignity and kindness. It is crucial to understand that refugees and asylum seekers fled their countries due to dire circumstances and out of necessity.

Thus, the first step is to make a sincere effort to address and correct the narrative that refugees are undocumented migrants, as this is the primary obstacle preventing them from being afforded fundamental rights and protection in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Bar believes in and hopes for a Malaysia that responds to refugees and asylum seekers with respect and understanding.

We should no longer remain ignorant of the glaring suffering of others, especially when joint efforts and the proper allocation of resources can make a meaningful difference in the lives of refugees, both as individuals and as a community.

Mohamad Ezri Abdul Wahab is president of the Malaysian Bar.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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