World Refugee Day is a call for inclusiveness. Not the external part of us, but from deep inside us. Our hearts and attitude toward the refugees are most important. We are all human beings that come from God. Segregation and separation only weaken us.
– Dr. Ng Oi Leng, Executive Director of ElShaddai Centre.
World Refugee Day 2022- A New Diversity, happened on a cool rainy Saturday night of 18th June. I had the honour to be part of this event which was hosted by Methodist Crisis Relief & Development (MCRD) together with ElShaddai Centre Berhad (ECB), to create awareness about refugees in Malaysia. The event has speeches from a few important personalities who are working closely with refugees and performances from different ethnic groups/refugee learning centres in the Klang Valley.
There were two keynote speakers for the night- Lilianne Fan and Josh Hong who are both refugee activists/advocates. They shared about how they were inspired by different people in their lives many years ago, which pushed them to be advocates for the diaspora community.
The most memorable story was shared by Lilianne who met 15-year-oldd Hassan in 2015. Hassan is a Rohingya refugee who was in an over-crowded boat from Myanmar, the boat-full of refugees was rejected by Thailand and Malaysia, and later rescued by Aceh (Indonesia) fishermen. Fortunately for the little education he received back in his hometown, he was then the only one in the boat who was able to communicate with the local fishermen. He was the bridge between his people and the locals.
After meeting Lilianne, Hassan approached her to request sponsorship for some books and stationaries for a class he started for the Rohingya young adults. Along the way, Hassan pursued higher education and is now a coordinator for Rohingya program for Geutanyoe Foundation, founded by Lilianne. Lilianne was motivated by Hassan’s determination and with that story, she encouraged the refugees to never give up on education and their ambitions.
The students from Kachin (Myanmar) Refugee Learning Centre and Hilla (Afghanistan) Community Centre dressed up in their beautiful traditional ethnic costumes and gave us a brief introduction to their respective cultures, followed by their cultural dances. We learned that Kachin people are originally from Tibet and Mongolia, and they live in Northern Myanmar and Yunnan Province, China. There are 7 different tribes from Kachin and they each have their own unique beautiful cultural costumes. Their biggest festival is the ‘Manau Festival’, which is celebrated on 10th January every year.
Then there were students from the Hilla Community Centre who are Hazaras from Afghanistan. The Hazaras is one of the biggest races in Afghanistan along with Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Uzbeks. They are known to be of Mongolian and Central Asian descent and have been considered an outsider in their own country. The students of both the learning centres were quite a highlight of the night as many guests were lining up just to take pictures with them before and after the event.
ElShaddai Centre presented two performances on that night – ‘How Great is our God’ by two of our girls, who performed the song in three different languages (Burmese-Myanmar, English, Urdu-Pakistan). They were accompanied by the school band which consists of three boys, who each played the keyboard, drums and guitar. The second performance was a choir by our Accelerated-Program students who performed ‘I Am the light of the World’ in three different languages (Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin), led by their choir teacher- Ms. Eunice. I may be biased, but kudos to the students and Ms. Eunice as they did well in both the performances. They have put in so much time and efforts in that evening’s performance.
Another highlight for the night was the conversation between Josh Hong (Activist) and two girls from ECB’s Girls Shelter- Angela from Myanmar and Mina from South Sudan. Both girls shared about how difficult it was for them to adapt to a new life here in Malaysia when they must flee their own countries during their much younger years. Josh lightens the mood after that by asking them about their favourite Malaysian food (Chili Pan Mee and Chicken Rice) and the one food they dislike. To my (and many guests) surprise, Angela doesn’t like Nasi Briyani and Mina doesn’t like nasi lemak!
When asked about what they think we (refugees and locals) can do together to understand each other better, Angela answered that there should be less discrimination against race and religion, and she hoped the locals could be more sympathetic towards the refugees. Later, she added that she has spent most of her life here in Malaysia and she loves this country very much just as much as the locals do. Mina pointed out that we should all treat others like how we want to be treated, that will make the world a better place. People tend to look at her in a certain way (due to her dark-coloured skin) and that makes her uncomfortable. She’s a human just like you and me.
ElShaddai Centre’s very own Dr. Ng Oi Leng delivered the closing speech for the night. She shared an incident where a visitor asked a boy in our learning centre ‘What’s your greatest desire?’ and the little boy innocently said that he wants to play football with Malaysians someday. Due to his special status, he couldn’t mingle with any Malaysian students all these years. Dr. Ng highlighted that segregation is a difficult barrier between the locals and refugees, and this segregation brings more harm than good to everyone. World Refugee Day is a call for inclusiveness, and that our hearts and attitudes are the most important. We are all human beings that come from God and we should work together as one. To end her speech, Dr Ng said: ‘Refugees in Malaysia are like colourful mosaics that makes Malaysia even more colourful and beautiful.’.
This was my first time attending a World Refugee Day event and the stories that I heard that night touched my heart deeply. The struggles and determination of the refugees in Malaysia are something that all Malaysians should know and understand. No one likes to get out of their own country and be humiliated in another country. They are humans just like you and me, and they deserve the right to a stable life, education, jobs, medical attention and many other things that we have been taking for granted.