Allow refugees to work, Govt urged
KUALA LUMPUR: The Bar Council has urged the Government to let refugees work so that they can be self-sustaining communities.
A clear-cut policy addressing the well-being of refugees must be established by the authorities to better manage refugees, said Bar Council Subcommittee on Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs chairman Datuk M. Ramachelvam.
By doing so, refugees would be able to earn a living, and the Government would be able to eradicate many socio-economic problems.
In its recommendation to the Government, the Bar Council suggested that the authorities adopt a foreign worker replacement policy where instead of allowing labour brokers to source for fresh migrant workers, priority should be given to refugees physically present in the country until they could return home or be resettled in a third country.
“If we have proper guidelines, we will save costs because if refugees are integrated into the formal economy and if they are within the taxable bracket, they too will need to pay tax,” he said in a press conference after a briefing on the new urban refugee policy by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees here yesterday.
Burma Refugee Organisation provides shelter, education and more for group
Stories by THO XIN YI
Photos by AZMAN GHANI
FAR away from their politically unstable motherland, Myanmars are seeking refuge on our shores.
The records of the United Nations High Commissioner (UNHCR) show that there are 82,400 refugee and asylum seekers in Malaysia as of February this year.
About 76,200 of them are from Myanmar, comprising some 37,600 Chins, 18,200 Rohingyas, 5,100 Myanmar Muslims, 3,500 Mon, 3,200 Kachins and other ethnic minorities including Burmese.
Bearing the scars of oppression, they have settled down in different parts of the country.
A group of Myanmar nationals are calling a township 30 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur their home, until it is safe to return to the homeland.
Most of them rent units above shoplots and work in factories, shops and restaurants nearby to feed themselves.
Guidance: Moe Moe Khing (middle) helping two Myanmar children with their homework.
We climbed two flights of stairs in a commercial lot and arrived at a unit with three letters — BRO — attached to the door.
Behind the door, a few men were gathered in front of a small television while two teenagers surfed the Internet in an unlit room.
On the wall was a collage of photos showing Myanmar refugees attending talks, cultural and religious activities, and also, startlingly, photos of the deceased lying in coffins.
BRO, which stands for Burma Refugee Organisation, was started on Jan 1, 2006, by U Maung Hla.
The 58-year-old fled his country and arrived in Malaysia in 1997.
After being jailed three times for taking part in a demonstration in front of the Myanmar embassy, he established the organisation to help his fellow countrymen.
“There were many groups for the other ethnics, like Chin, Kachin and Shan, but there was none for the Burmese (also one of the ethnics). I had no one to turn to for help.
“When I set up BRO, I made sure that I did not discriminate based on ethnic groups and religion. My door is open to all who need help,” he said.
Skilled: Nang Khan Seng earns extra income by putting her sewing skills to good use.
Now in its fifth year of operation, BRO has some 17,000 members in Peninsular Malaysia.
Maung Hla said he worked closely with the UNHCR to help the Myanmar refugees in Malaysia.
“I respond to calls from police stations and hospitals, when Myanmar nationals are being detained or sent to hospitals for treatment.
“I will then work with UNHCR to have the detainees released and sometimes, I have to make funeral arrangements for those who have died,” he said.
Maung Hla travels twice a month to meet BRO members in other states. When he hits the road, he brings along small containers of fried beef pickle, fried prawns pickle, fried dried fish with him to sell to those who yearn for a taste of home.
These products are made by the women members in another unit, which also doubled as their home.
Maung Hla’s wife, Moe Moe Khing, 39, who is in charge of the women’s and children’s section, said BRO obtained funds from UNHCR to start this small project.
“The women have something to do to occupy their time while the profits earned are channelled back to the health and education fund,” she said.
In this unit adorned with posters and calendars bearing the portraits of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the residents prepare meals for some 50 students studying in the opposite unit on the same floor.
The children, aged between five and 17, do not have an open field to play or a canteen to buy titbits and fried chicken.
This small unit, equipped with basic furniture, is where they learn English, Mathematics, Science and Computer skills for a monthly fee of RM40.
After four years in the township, Maung Hla said BRO had established amicable ties with the locals.
“I explained our situation to them and they understand. Some of them even asked us to keep an eye on their shops when they are away,” he said.
At the same time, BRO members are told to respect the local customs and abstain from vices.
Moe Moe added: “I told them we are in a foreign land together so don’t fight each other.”
The Myanmar nationals only hold BRO member cards temporarily until they register with UNHCR and obtain refugee identity cards.
Maung Hla said he had stopped harping on political issues and focused strictly on social welfare.
“Every day when I open my eyes, I think of how to help the people,” he said.