JUNE 19 — In light of World Refugee Day, we want to celebrate and honour the strength and courage of refugees around the globe, as well as their resilience in rebuilding their lives.

In the past year, negative perceptions towards refugees has amplified during times of crisis. June 20 is recognized as World Refugee Day, a day designated by the UN Refugee Agency to focus global attention on the plight of people fleeing conflict or persecution. This day offers a chance to raise awareness on the plight of refugees around the world and of the efforts to protect their human rights.

General view of a Rohingya settlement in Bandar Baru Sentul, Kuala Lumpur June 13, 2021. — Picture Hari Anggara
General view of a Rohingya settlement in Bandar Baru Sentul, Kuala Lumpur June 13, 2021. — Picture Hari Anggara

While UNHCR and other local NGOs in Malaysia have always commemorated World Refugee Day with a number of activities to help raise awareness, the Malaysian authorities have consistently pursued a number of punitive measures targetting refugees in the country. The deeper problem rooted in our nation is the lack of distinction between refugees and undocumented migrants and the inconsistencies of government policies towards refugees in Malaysia.

Labelling refugees as “illegal immigrants” has led them to suffer the lack of security in all aspects of their lives and exposed them to grave protection risks on a daily basis. Malaysia must start to recognise the courage and perseverance of refugees in the country. We must advocate for a more inclusive society where we can celebrate the stories, histories, cultures, languages and lives of refugees.

Accepting, protecting and empowering refugees is a win-win formula: for the refugees themselves and for Malaysia. By providing them with the right to work, to health and to education, refugeees can quickly intergrate into the labour force and become productive members of society. More importantly, accepting refugees protects the most precious right of all: the right to live.

Moving forward, the government should be encouraged to have strategies in place to build a more inclusive and welcoming society in addition to raising awareness and understanding on refugee issues in Malaysia.

Turning our backs to refugees in many cases is a violation of fundamental human rights. World Refugee Day provides an opportunity for communities to recognize and understand the challenges that refugees face in Malaysia.

* Karisma Putera and Simraatraj Kaur Dhillon are Research & Advocacy Analysts at Bait Al Amanah, an independent research institute that promotes policy and decision-making through sound, independent and multidisciplinary analysis in areas of governance and democracy, economics, security, and issues of national importance.

** This is the personal opinion of the writers and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.