People have been fleeing poverty, disease, wars, natural disasters, and prejudice for as long as recorded history reaches back. They find themselves in host societies that often do the minimum, while generally regarding them as a nuisance. “Why don’t you go back to where you came from and sort things out,” their new neighbours ask. “World Refugee Day is not our problem,” they add.
World Refugee Day is Both Our and The World’s Challenge
World refugees came to fresh attention in the aftermath of World War II, as nations gathered to determine the responsibilities of host nations. Their decisions were embodied in the Refugee Convention, also known as the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951.
Those key decisions were again enshrined in the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that extended the geographic scope in the aftermath of decolonisation.
However, to this day there are still differing opinions regarding the definition of refugees and their rights in host countries. World Refugee Day is part of an ongoing effort to celebrate and honour refugees from all around the world.
What Do We Mean When We Say Refugee?
By international convention a refugee is a displaced person who crossed international borders and cannot, or does not wish to return home. This may be due to:
- Poverty, disease, war, or disaster making return to their home country impractical.
- A threat to their life and limb due to racial, religious, gender, or life-style prejudice.
A refugee may have no rights, recognition or status when they arrive in another country seeking shelter. That’s because they first have to apply for asylum under their host country’s rules, or within the framework of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees if they are signatories.
However, their day-to-day experiences still very much depend on the attitudes of their near-neighbours surrounding them. Their practical experiences may range from a warm welcome, to social exclusion and downright abuse.
Why World Refugee Day Matters So Much
Being a refugee can be a lonely, debilitating experience. Speak to one and they may say “The world passes me by, I am a forgotten person. It is almost as if I am to blame for the poverty, disease, war, natural disaster, or prejudice that drove me here. I have no money, no work, and no permanent home. What do you want me to do?”
While we may be morally obliged to spare a thought for the rest of the world, life’s day-to-day activities inevitably distract us, and we may soon forget. World Refugee Day comes around every 20th June as a reminder from United Nations, and it was a timely prompt that encouraged us to write this post.
World Refugee Day recalls the strength and courage of refugees who fled conflict and persecution in their home country in the hope of finding sanctuary, and living a better life. Right around the world sympathetic people hope to share in their rich diversity through dance, theatre, films, and musical events reflecting a broad tapestry of cultures.
What Will World Refugee Day Mean for Malaysia in 2022?
The United Nations Refugee Agency will probably once again highlight a selection of activities, stories, videos, and information about refugees in Malaysia on its website. Feel free, it invariably says, to share the inspirations with your network of family and friends. But how could we and should we participate?
Once again, there will be no physical events in view of the COVID pandemic. Nonetheless, one overarching hope will shine through, as we remember those refugees still hoping for a better life, despite all they have been through.
And that hope is that together we can make a difference for people who lost everything, and came to us in Malaysia for shelter and the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Now is the time to give to them generously. To help kids continue with their education. And to help families rebuild the cohesive bonds they once shared.
An Update on Official Malaysia Policy Towards Refugees
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. It confirms Malaysia has not ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. As a consequence there is no legal framework protecting asylum seekers and refugees here.
“Our life has been difficult,” writes one refugee who fled Mynamar in 2011 when he became aware of being under state surveillance. “Our life continues to be difficult;” he adds. “We continue to be at risk of arrest, detention, and forcible repatriation.”
A number of people who fled Rohingya are also in limbo, CIVICUS continues. They have limited right of assembly. Their only opportunities to work are in the informal sector. Those who fail to register become technically criminals under the Immigration Act, and may be subject to arrest, imprisonment, and other sanctions.
Strangers in Our Land Are Calling Out to Us
Those strangers in our land came to us out of desperation. Many are refugees because return to their home countries is either impractical, or they risk racial, religious, gender, or life-style prejudice after they return.
They are not allowed access to formal education here. They are not allowed to be officially employed. They have no way to earn a legal basic income. And as a consequence of all the factors we mentioned, they rely on our good will to survive.
We Invite You to Do Something to Help
Relying on another person’s charity strips away self-confidence and self-worth, layer by layer. The innermost self may degrade to the point where life is purposeless, and motivation to continue collapses. Malaysians with resources face a calling to help today. Would you be able to, and will you assist this World Refugee Day? Browse Incitement for refugee related projects that you can support.