How one Malaysian is helping refugees show off their talent; this time in Penang

The Refugee Fest 2019 will take place at Bangunan UAB in George Town from tomorrow until Sunday. — Picture courtesy of The Refuge Fest
The Refugee Fest 2019 will take place at Bangunan UAB in George Town from tomorrow until Sunday. — Picture courtesy of The Refuge Fest

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 — Working with refugees for the past 12 years has resulted in one Malaysian creating a platform to showcase their artistic talents.

The result is The Refugees Fest by investigative filmmaker and journalist Mahi Ramakrishnan.

It is also her way of connecting them with the Malaysian society.

This year, the event is expanding to George Town in Penang for its fourth installment – featuring 15 refugee artists from Rohingya, Syrian, Afghan, Sri Lankan Tamil and Pakistani Ahmadi communities from tomorrow until Sunday.

Themed “Inclusion for a Better World”, the three-day festival will feature various activities including, theatre workshops, film screenings, photo presentations, panel discussions, music performances and poetry reading at Bangunan UAB.

Festival founder Mahi said she has discovered many hidden talents over the years.

“I decided to showcase their talents to the public and use the festival as a common platform to connect the refugees with the Malaysian society,” she added.

She said the world is facing its worst refugee crisis since the World War II, with over 22 million people displaced globally.

“Internal wars and persecution continue to uproot families and destroy lives," she added.

“Many of these people have fled to Malaysia to make a new home here, and we must welcome them and embrace them."

Hidden talents

Despite the awareness efforts, Mahi said many Malaysians are still hostile towards refugees, foreign workers, stateless persons and even the Orang Asli communities.

“The refugees who perform at the festival are incredibly talented artists, which clearly demonstrates that if they are given a chance, they can contribute effectively to any given society,” she added.

Mahi said the festival has managed over the years to bring refugee poets under the umbrella body called The Refugee Poets Society, and they managed to perform at the annual Georgetown Literary Festival.

One of their poets, Shamshad Chaudhry from Pakistan, also won the first prize at the Migrant and Refugee Poetry Competition last year.

"We have published their first collection of poems and supported refugee musicians and theatre artists," Mahi said.

This year, the festival will introduce Rohingya musicians and publish a zine by Afghan poet and artist, Masuma Tavakoli.

Mahi said Masuma’s illustrations depict the human rights violations under Taliban rule, adding that the zine is made possible with the support of the Canadian High Commission.

The festival will also feature Syrian poet Mwaffaq Alhajjar, who has been living in Malaysia for the past three years.

The 27-year-old poet and petrochemical engineer said he feels very blessed being in a country that is culturally rich and has kind-hearted people.

“Malaysians are extremely kind, respectful and very lively,” he said.

Mwaffaq said the festival was the turning point of his life, where he met many friends and made many collaborations.

“It opened many doors for me and even gave me the opportunity to perform in Georgetown Literary Festival last year,” he said.

“The festival is a great platform for the refugees who want to be heard and also showcase their talents.”

The festival will also be held in Kuala Lumpur from June 13 to 16.

Click here for more information and the festival’s three-day programme.

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