Children Without Homes
Updated: Jul 25, 2018
Monday, January 15, 2018
Can you imagine having to grab your child and flee your home under the dark cover of night to escape the fighting in your village? You wouldn’t be running to the police station or hospital for safety, as these places have already been destroyed.
Instead, you would be making a dangerous journey on foot or crammed into overcrowded trucks or boats, constantly fearful of being caught by soldiers.
Worst of all, imagine this: Your child gets separated from you.
All over the world, families are living these nightmares. There are nearly 22.5 million refugees worldwide, and more than half of them are children and teenagers. They come from countries like Myanmar, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. They look for safety in peaceful countries in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia, including Malaysia.
Unfortunately, many refugees are shunned and mistreated wherever they go, because many fundamental misconceptions about them still persist:
Myth #1: They are all migrants
Refugees are not the same as economic migrants, who come to Malaysia to look for work. Refugees are forced to escape their own countries because their lives are in danger back home. It is wrong to say that refugees will steal the jobs of Malaysians or pose security risks. They are simply looking for safe shelter, especially for their children.
The refugees in Malaysia have set up their own small communities and find work in order to support themselves and their families. Many of them are hardworking and resourceful.
Myth #2: We should send all refugees back
Refugees cannot return to their home countries as long as the fighting is still ongoing. If we do so, we will be sending them to their deaths.
You may remember the heart-breaking photograph of a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in 2015 after the boat that he and other refugees had been travelling in capsized.
This is the nature of the journey that refugees have to undertake: fraught with danger, and no guarantee of a happy ending. Yet, they are willing to risk their lives because the violence they face back home – bombings, shootings, being run down by tanks – is far worse.
Most refugees are stateless – they are denied nationality by their own countries because of their ethnicity or religion. Stateless people cannot access basic rights like education, healthcare, employment and travel.
Myth #3: Refugee children should not be allowed to go to school
Refugee children have been robbed of their rights and their childhood. Living in refugee camps or in small shop lots with other families, they cannot play, study or grow up normally. They have also been traumatised by the violence that happened right in front of their eyes, sometimes to their own loved ones.
Some refugee children in Malaysia are locked up in immigration detention centres alongside adult offenders. Some may even be separated from their parents. By keeping them out of detention centres and giving them an education, we can offer these children a bright spot of hope for their future. They can gain vital skills and knowledge, rebuild their lives, and contribute towards a peaceful world.
Myth #4: Refugee children will be taken care of by their parents
Often, children get separated from their parents and families when they are fleeing their homes. Some may even have seen their family members killed in the violence. These children are called unaccompanied minors and separated children. Some may be fortunate to support from other members of their community here.
However, many more are at risk of being trafficked and abused because they have no one keeping an eye on them.
We panic when we lose sight of our children for even a second in the shopping mall – imagine how these children and their parents feel when they are separated in a conflict situation or in a new and alien country.
Organisations like the UN Refugee Agency work to reunite children with their families.
Myth #5: What happens to refugees does not concern us
If we treat refugees badly by locking them up, abusing them and denying them the opportunity to work, we will make them resent us. When people’s rights are suppressed, they often have no choice but to turn to violence and crime.
Refugees are our fellow human beings – they are just mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers trying to lead normal lives. By showing them compassion, you are teaching your children that every life is worthy of respect, no matter where they are from.
How do you make the first step in helping these refugees?
At Me Books Asia, we believe that every child deserves equal opportunities to achieve amazing things. We hope to raise awareness among parents that many children out there, including refugees, are deprived of these opportunities.
By understanding the suffering that refugees face, we hope that we can all do our small part to give these children a brighter future.
There are several non-profit organisations in Malaysia helping refugee communities to rebuild their lives until they can return to their countries or be granted asylum in another country:
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
UNHCR seeks long-term solutions for refugees and creates a safe and secure environment for them where their basic needs are met.
How you can get involved: http://www.unhcr.org/en-my/get-involved-in-malaysia.html
SUKA provides case management for refugee children detained in immigration detention centres
How you can get involved: http://www.sukasociety.org/how-can-you-help/
Dignity for Children
Dignity provides education for refugee children as well as training for community teachers
How you can get involved: http://www.dignityforchildren.org/get-involved
Fugee School provides education and life skills for refugee children, based on the motto ‘You’re In, Not Out’.
How you can get involved: https://fugeeschool.com/
There are many other refugee organisations doing great community work in Klang Valley and other parts of Malaysia. If you come across any, just introduce yourself and ask them how you can help!