Tuesday, September 27, 2016

MALAYSIA : ‘Speed up refugee resettlement’

Meeting of minds: Dr Ahmad Zahid with Motorola Solutions chairman and chief executive Greg Brown on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

NEW YORK: Malaysia has urged the international community to help resettle existing refugee populations in host countries to third countries.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the delays in resettling these refugees would inevitably result in economic, social, political and security hardships to the host country.

He called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and state parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its related Protocol to give serious attention and promptly act on the issue.

“While we are cognisant of the elements as contained in the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, such initiatives should not unduly place non-signatory states to the relevant international instruments in a position inconsistent with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties,” said Dr Ahmad Zahid in his speech at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday.

On Friday, Malaysia had sought Lebanon’s assistance in fulfilling its pledge to absorb up to 3,000 Syrian migrants fleeing their war-torn country.

Malaysia has so far received 79 Syrian migrants in two batches as of May, and is looking at receiving another 421 by year-end. Lebanon, with a population of over four million people, was currently hosting some 1.5 million Syrian refugees

Dr Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia’s rapid development and growth had attracted people within the region, either through legal or illegal means.

“Malaysia recognises the contribution of the foreign workforce to the country’s economic prosperity. Hence, it is equally important to look into their safety and welfare,” he said.

The Government, said Dr Ahmad Zahid, pays serious attention to cases involving labour exploitation including forced labour.

This is reflected in the definition of trafficking in persons under the Malaysian Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007, which has been widened to include labour exploitation.

This, said Dr Ahmad Zahid, is also in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which requires immediate and stern measures to eradicate forced labour and end modern day slavery as well as human trafficking.

Malaysia, he said, also works with the international community to tackle and eliminate such heinous crimes, which have caused grave injustice and untold sufferings.

Bernama reported that Malaysia was also planning to host an international conference with a view to seeking a permanent solution to the presence of close to 60,000 ethnic Rohingyas in the country.

Dr Ahmad Zahid said leaders from Myanmar, as well as nine other Asean countries and representatives from UNHCR, IOM and other relevant organisations, would be invited to take part in the event.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Malaysia backs move to stamp out modern slavery, Zahid says

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Kuala Lumpur had proposed that Britain organise an international conference on modern day slavery during a round-table meeting of leaders. ― Reuters pic

ORK, Sept 21 — Malaysia is on the same page with countries like Britain on the need to stamp out human trafficking and modern slavery, says Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. 

In this regard, he said Kuala Lumpur had proposed that Britain organise an international conference on modern day slavery during a round-table meeting of leaders, representatives of international organisations and experts convened by British Prime Minister Theresa May in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (Unga) here.

“There’s a need for collective regional and international efforts to deal with the problem of human trafficking and modern slavery in an effective manner,” he told Malaysian media Tuesday night.

Besides Ahmad Zahid, the meeting was attended by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Slovakian President Andrej Kiska as well as relevant bodies and non-governmental organisations.

‘Modern slavery’, ‘trafficking in persons’ and ‘human trafficking’ have been used as umbrella terms for the act of recruiting, harbouring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labour or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

Speaking ahead of the meeting in New York, May had said that across the world an estimated 45 million people were enduring experiences that were “simply horrifying in their inhumanity”.

Besides establishing a task force, the British government has also earmarked some 33 million pounds from the United Kingdom aid budget to tackle modern slavery in high risk countries where victims are regularly trafficked to the UK. 

Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, apprised the meeting of measures taken by Malaysia to deal with the issue, including through the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act (Atipsom) 2007 which came into force on Feb 28, 2008.

He noted that agencies tasked with implementing Atipsom handled 1,133 cases of human trafficking between 2008 and August 2016, and detained 1,861 people. Over the same period, 141 cases had resulted in convictions, 33 of them in 2016. A total of 439 cases had gone to trial.

In a related development, Ahmad Zahid said efforts were also being made to extradite from Thailand, 10 people suspected of involvement in the 2015 discovery of mass graves containing the bodies of trafficked migrants at the Thai-Malaysian border.

On the sidelines of Unga, Ahmad Zahid also met Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton and the United States’ Susan Coppedge, ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons and senior adviser to the Secretary of State.

On the meeting with Dutton, the deputy prime minister said Malaysia would send officials to Australia to see how both countries could cooperate in tackling refugee and migrant issues. 

In talks with Coppedge, he said the American official lauded Malaysia’s efforts in prosecuting those involved in human trafficking. 

Commenting on the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted by world leaders attending the Unga on Monday, Ahmad Zahid said it was timely, given the pressing issue of large-scale movements of such groups. 

The Global Trends 2015 compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than five million from 59.5 million a year earlier. The tally comprised 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries. — Bernama

- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com

Sunday, September 18, 2016

UN call to ease visa restrictions for refugee students

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is calling on universities to support scholarships for refugees and on governments to invest in education for refugees and to ease the provision of visas for refugee students. 

Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for UNHCR, spoke toUniversity World News in advance of making the plea in a speech at the annual conference of the European Association for International Education in Liverpool in the United Kingdom on Friday.

“We are calling on countries as part of the global responsibility sharing not just to think in terms of funding or resettlement of refugees but also of student visas,” she said.

“Sometimes it is not up to the universities but to governments to say 'okay, if this is going to be our part in sharing responsibility for the global refugee problem, we will encourage student visas'.”

Fleming said currently there are a lot of universities willing to provide scholarships but they are facing red tape.

“To try to get a Syrian student into a US university, it takes two years to go through the screening process for resettlement to the US,” she said. “Yet there are a couple of examples – Ireland, which has a number of scholarships for Syrian students and Portugal as well – where it is not just the universities but the government also offering visas as their contribution to alleviating the refugee crisis.”

Fleming said the key message of a new UNHCR report, Missing Out: Refugee education in crisis, released on Thursday is that the current approach to supporting education of refugees is “short-sighted” and “dumb”.

Only about half of refugee children are in primary school, one in four go to secondary school and only 1% of refugee youth have a chance to go to university.

This compares with UNESCO figures of 34% of young people of university age accessing higher education around the world.

“This is not just a situation of haves and have nots; it is short-sighted and dumb, frankly, not to put everything into investment in refugee children and youth."

She said the average time spent as a refugee is 20 years and many refugees stem from conflicts in areas of great strategic interest such as Afghanistan and Syria.

“Refugees would be the future architects and engineers, mayors and doctors and peace-builders of their war-torn country because virtually all refugees want to return home.”

Conversely, there is a lot of evidence that if we don’t put a child in education, they become susceptible to abuse and recruitment by armed groups, and for youths with no prospect of education or a job, working for the local warlord in some situations may be the only option.

Perpetuating violence

So if you don’t invest in education, you “risk perpetuating the cycle of conflict and violence that you are investing in military and diplomacy to try to stop”, Fleming says.

Fleming said that a key problem for UNHCR is that its needs-based budget is designed in a way that makes life-saving the essential priority, followed by recovery from trauma, and support for other more long-term needs gets cut when the money – pledged by governments – doesn’t come in.

This lack of foresight creates a gaping hole, particularly in education. Donors are all on board when it comes to understanding the essential need for primary education, but when it comes to secondary education, there just isn’t enough money made available and higher education is off the scale altogether. 

It becomes a vicious circle because if children don’t go to primary school, they won’t make it to secondary; if they don’t go to secondary they won’t make it to higher education, and even if they do make it to secondary, they face the problem of lack of documentation of their secondary achievements or exam passes that might qualify them to move on to the tertiary level.

“Money talks,” says Fleming. “It can help convince countries to integrate refugees into their national education system rather than being stuck in an informal parallel system which is often not accredited.”

“It is more difficult for the refugees,” she says, “because they then have to learn in the local language. But they are doing this in Lebanon with double shifts in the schools, a huge exercise that needs political will as the government has to adapt the school system if there are large numbers of refugees – but they are not going to unless there is the funding.”

There are lots of obstacles to negotiate, from the general underfunding of UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations, to refugees being in a very disadvantaged position. They might not have their high school transcripts with them or they forgot their high school diploma when they fled as the bomb dropped on their house, so there is a lot of red tape to negotiate.

The demand is increasing year by year. This summer’s figure of65.3 million people forcibly displaced worldwide compares with 38 million 10 years ago, and the funding is not keeping up with the needs, Fleming says.

UN summit

A UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants is being held in New York on Monday, in which the UN General Assembly will address the issue. The draft of the outcomes includes a pledge to support good quality primary and secondary education in safe learning environments for all refugee children within a few months of the initial displacement. And there is a specific pledge to support early childhood education and “promote tertiary education, skills training and vocational education”.

The text recognises that “in conflict and crisis situations, higher education serves as a powerful driver for change, shelters and protects a critical group of young men and women by maintaining their hopes for the future, fosters inclusion and non-discrimination, and acts as a catalyst for the recovery and rebuilding of post-conflict countries”.

The day after the summit, President Barack Obama has called aLeaders’ Summit on Refugees, whose purpose, according to US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, is to take direct action and “urge and support robust action by other UN member states”. 

New and significant concrete commitments are to be made, she says, to address the problem that “massive numbers of refugees are turning to dangerous and illegal smuggling networks in search of safety; and millions more face long-term dependence in first asylum countries, without access to lawful employment and education”.

The summits are a response to the European refugee crisis, Fleming says. “All of a sudden the world is noticing that there is a large number of people on the move. The meeting will not resolve the huge structural challenges immediately, but it will definitely launch a new framework for taking care of refugees at the outset.”

Chain broken

The problem is that refugees are moving from one country to the next when they find they can’t work or find a way to put their children in school and the chain of education that leads up to higher education is immediately broken.

“When we surveyed refugees coming from Syria to Greece and moving to Austria, Germany and Sweden, we asked what was driving them to risk their lives again in rickety boats to move to other countries in Europe, and all of them were saying 'I don’t have the ability to make a living and ensure my kids get an education'.”

In Turkey only around 30% of refugee children are in school, in Jordan 70% and in Lebanon 40%. “Countries in Europe did not realise how much refugees would risk to get their children a chance to get an education.”

So many university students came to Europe either directly from Syria or from countries neighbouring Syria and all they wanted to do was continue their education. This presents a big challenge to the richer counties, to sort out red tape, ways of funding places, providing language programmes and bridging programmes to bring students whose education has been cut off by war to readiness for university in a foreign language or country.

There are two pathways that UNHCR highlights. One is investment in schemes like its own DAFI (a German acronym for the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) scholarship scheme, which is funded mostly by the German government, and supports scholarships for students in the country of asylum, typically next to the country of conflict they came from, so that they can more easily return home to help rebuild their country when the fighting stops.

There is also a small but growing number of programmes of blended learning, where a community of learners is created in one learning space and connected online to tutors in partner universities in the country of asylum and in Western countries, with the latter providing accredited qualifications, including diplomas and degrees. Some of the learning is done at a distance online, but in some cases teachers also visit the learning centres in person, depending on the risks involved.

A consortium of this type of 'connected learning' is being developed to spread good practice and provide greater choice for students – typically situated in refugee camps or urban communities of refugees in countries such as Kenya and Jordan – through flexible pathways between providers in the consortium.

The UNHCR report cites the example of Nawa, a 20-year-old Somali refugee who never set foot in a school until she was 16. But thanks to the Fugee School, one of 121 refugee learning centres in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she was given a chance to learn English and study for her secondary school certificate – and now she has been accepted onto a course at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, where she is doing a foundation course while still volunteering as a teacher in the learning centre.

Nawa is one of 42 refugee students currently enrolled in three universities in Malaysia as a result of strong advocacy with tertiary institutions by UNHCR.

“Every human being has the right to an education,” she said. “With education, you have the key to unlock every door. Before I came to Malaysia and started at Fugee School, I did not know what I wanted in the future. But now I know what life is like, what opportunities are out there, and I have better skills to serve the world.”


Malaysia's DPM Zahid Arrives In New York For UNGA

NEW YORK: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi arrived here to represent Malaysia at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The commercial aircraft carrying Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, and his entourage touched down at the John F. Kennedy International Airport at about 9.25 pm Saturday (9.25 am Sunday in Malaysia).

This is his fourth visit to the United States since appointed deputy prime minister in July last year, and his maiden appearance as head of the Malaysian delegation at UNGA.

On hand to welcome him were Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, as well as Malaysian officials based in New York and Washington.


Ahmad Zahid's working visit to New York City is until Sept 25.

Besides Ahmad Zahid, the Malaysian entourage attending the UN gathering and related events, includes Anifah, as well as senior officials from the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Ministry and Home Ministry.

Last month, Ahmad Zahid chaired the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) at the UN headquarters.

Among the highlights of the deputy prime minister's visit this time is delivering the national statement for Malaysia at the General Debate on Sept 24.

Prior to that, Ahmad Zahid is scheduled to participate in the High-Level Meeting to address large movements of refugees and migrants at the General Assembly on Sept 19.

He will also join other leaders at the High-Level Meeting on the situation in Syria at the UN Security Council on Sept 21.


In October last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, at the 70th session of UNGA, announced that Malaysia would open its doors to 3,000 Syrian migrants on humanitarian grounds over a period of three years to help ease the refugee crisis.

It was reported that Malaysia was aiming to give temporary shelter to 500 Syrian migrants by the end of this year.

Ahmad Zahid is also scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the 71st UNGA to discuss matters of mutual interest.

- Bernama

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Asean lacks coordination on refugees

Kota Kinabalu: There is lack of coordination among Asean member states as well as lack of political will among leaders to bring about a permanent solution on the problem of refugees.

This is also compounded by marriages and liaisons between locals and refugees.

"There is also the problem of Asean countries which have not ratified the Refugee Convention.

"There are issues of governance in the countries from where refugees flee. UN perspective on Advocacy on Refugees is not working in Asean – it only works with countries providing ODA or Official Development Assistance such as the European Union, United States of America, Japan and Australia.

"There are also problems in the enforcement of refugee rights," said MJ Paluga if the University of Philippines Mindanao with AM Raqragio.

"He said the Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) 2013 and Refugees, Article 2 stipulates: "Every person is entitled to the rights and freedoms set forth herein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, gender, age, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth, disability or other status."

Malaysia does not even accord to some of its citizens that are not of Malay ethnicity, Muslim creed, as many permanent residents holding red ICs, as well as Article 22: the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

There is no freedom of religion for Muslims other than Islam of the Sunni Shafie School in Malaysia or risk being labelled as deviant or unbelievers," he said.

"Under Article 35 on the right to development, even Malaysians in constituencies won by opposition do not get to enjoy public funding for development in some cases.

"What can we learn from ground realities? Institutional and international humanitarian-concern framings regarding the so-called 'refugee problem' should periodically calibrate itself to emerging phenomena from the ground so that our Asean Community response is more inclusive," said Paluga.

In 2015, Malaysia was estimated to have a labour work force of 14 million out of a population of 31 million citizens.

A reason for not adopting the UN Refugees charter was that it would be too expensive to accord them the treatment they deserve by law.

However, Paluga said there is also an Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) 2013 and Malaysia is a member.

He was speaking at a session at the 10th International Malaysian Studies Conference at UMS.

"According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) roundtable on Nov 6, 2015, the Malaysia Trade Union Congress (MTUC) cited the Ministry of Human Resource estimate of undocumented migrants at around two million to the Ministry of Home Affairs estimate of undocumented migrants at around four million.

"The Ministry of Human Resource as of June 2015, estimated that there were 2,245,513 documented foreign workers.

"Unpublished figures from the Enforcement Division of the Immigration Department on the 2011 amnesty exercise registered 1,303,126 undocumented migrants.

"Hence, there are no definite authoritative figures to show the facts. In Sabah, the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) report on illegal migrants is still pending for action.

Paluga noted that Myanmar does not want to have any discussion on refugees. The country once told former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir to take all the Muslims if he was so concerned about them.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, as the Asean Chair in 2015, stated that the long term solution would be for Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya crisis domestically," said Dagmar Oberlies in a presentation 'Human Rights Based Approaches – A Critical Review'.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Compassion for refugees

IF your country was at war, or if you faced violence, torture or genocide because you believed in a different god or had a different skin colour or cultural practice, how would you feel? If your country was not safe, where would you go? It’s natural to want the best for yourself and your loved ones. You would run away. This would make you a refugee. However, being a refugee is too often like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. 

While refugees may have left the troubles of their own country, being unwelcome foreigners in another country has its own problems. No work (livelihood), no education for their children, no healthcare and perhaps no future. The gloomy and trying conditions in countries in which refugees seek refuge are likely to be a long one because the problems in their home country may take time to get fixed. 

In Malaysia, based on the 2014 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Fact Sheet, there were 142,831 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. From Myanmar, there were 132,629, comprising 52,056 Chins, 34,871 Rohingyas, 11,765 Myanmar Muslims, 7,901 Rakhine, 3,630 Burmese and Bamars, 5,397 Mon, 5,323 Kachins and other ethnicities. There were 10,202 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries. 

UNHCR believes that there were 35,000 unregistered asylum seekers, whom UNHCR is working to register. While the sheer number may be a shock to many Malaysians, we are no strangers to refugees. In the 1970s, 250,000 Vietnamese refugees arrived by boat and were provided temporary shelter in Pulau Bidong, south of Pulau Redang. From the 1970s to 1980s, around 50,000 Filipino Muslim refugees were supported in Sabah when they fled conflicts in Mindanao.

 In the 1980s, several thousand Cambodian Muslim refugees were offered permanent residency in Malaysia. In the 1990s, several hundred Bosnians were provided asylum when their country was plunged into civil war. More recently, last October, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that Malaysia would receive up to 3,000 Syrian refugees.

 However, going back even further in Malaysia’s history, it can be argued that the Malaysia you and I know was founded by a “refugee”. A refugee not in the strict sense of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, but rather as a refugee fleeing violence and seeking out a safer place for refuge. If this does not sound anything like the history that you have learnt in primary or secondary school, perhaps a refresher on the history of Parameswara (Iskandar Shah) may help. 

Parameswara, king of Tamasek (Singapore), fled the island and settled in Malacca in 1401. He fled Tamasek because his home was attacked by Majapahits with 300 warships and 200,000 men. It is said that Parameswara, while sitting under a tree in Malacca, was emboldened when he saw a weaker mousedeer elude his hunting dog. He possibly identified with the mousedeer and seeing this as a good omen, established his court at Sungai Melaka. The rest, they say, is history. So from our history to modern times, Malaysia has hosted refugees. 

While there are many reasons why this is the case — such as geography, climate and economy — at the heart of it, I believe that Malaysians are grounded in hospitality, compassion and kindness. We know what it means to be in need or like the mousedeer hunted by a dog and, so, we are willing to help others as best as we can. While governments consider long-term solutions to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in our region, the tens of thousands here in Malaysia can do with your help. 

What kind of help? Not necessarily with financial or material support, access to education (nearly 30,000 of the refugees in Malaysia are children) nor access to health, but understanding and compassion. Understand that they did not leave their country just because they wanted to but because they had to. Having compassion, knowing that, “there but for the grace of God go I”. Understanding and compassion are built from encounters. 

If you do not know a refugee working in a restaurant, or cannot find an education centre teaching refugee children, there are also non-governmental organisations and faith based organisations working with these refugees. I found many touching stories of refugee resilience at stories.unhcr.org/my. Caring for others never makes us weak. It only makes us stronger. DANIEL LO, Special officer (human rights) to Senator Datuk Paul Low, minister in the Prime Minister's Department

Read More : http://www.nst.com.my

Putrajaya urged to allow Rohingya to work

Charles Santiago says education and jobs for refugees will reduce the need for foreign workers.

PETALING JAYA: Klang MP Charles Santiago has urged the government to take concrete action to help Rohingya refugees in the country improve their lives.

Speaking to FMT, he said the dire situation faced by the Rohingya and other refugees in the country was a long way from being resolved and that no amount of meetings and conferences would help.

He was reacting to a Reuters article which highlighted the plight of the refugees, who are in limbo because they don’t have formal refugee status.

He said Putrajaya should at least ratify the United Nation’s Convention on Refugees quickly.
“The missing ingredient in this crisis is the lack of political will on the part of relevant governments in the region, including the Malaysian government,” he added.

He said there was a lot that Putrajaya could do to make the lives of the refugees easier, and one of the most important steps it should take was to give them opportunities for employment and education.

Refugee employment, he said, could help reduce the number of migrant workers in the country, and not only in dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs.

“If we provide them with education opportunities, we could then employ them to fill vacancies which require skilled work,” he said, adding that refugees were known to excel in countries where they had been settled.

Employment and education for the refugees would not only reduce the need for Malaysia to look outside for its human resource needs, but also ensure that the refugees would become self-sustaining, he added.

Santiago said there was often a fear that refugees would not want to leave the country if the government gave them employment and education opportunities.

However, he said, those who had such a fear must recognise that the refugees had nowhere else to go or any resources to enable them to go elsewhere.

“If they cannot work, they will definitely be stuck here,” he said. “But if they work, they could become assets.”

There are some 150,000 refugees in Malaysia, many of whom are Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to escape poverty, discrimination and persecution.


Thai court sentences Rohingya trafficker to 35 years prison

A MAN who trafficked ethnic Burmese (Myanmar) refugees has been given a stiff 35-year jail sentence by a Thai court, in a case from last year that led to the shocking discovery of jungle camps, mass graves and a major trans-border human trafficking syndicate in the kingdom.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, named after the news wire’s charitable arm that focuses on human rights, the man was found guilty of trafficking nearly 100 Rohingyans in January last year.

Sunand was reportedly arrested after police intercepted five vehicles at a checkpoint in the Nakhon Si Thammarat province, which were carrying 98 men, women, and children who appeared “thin and tired” on Jan 11, 2015.

Nearly half of those being trafficked, or 42 of them, were boys and girls younger than 14 while one adult passenger was found dead.

Police used data from mobile phones seized from the drivers of the vehicles and bank transactions linking the man also known as Ko Mit Saengthong to a trafficking syndicate as evidence against him.

Human rights lawyer Janjira Janpaew, who has been monitoring the case, was quoted as saying that Sunand was found guilty of human trafficking, enslavement, and harboring the refugees. He was also fined THB660,000 (US$19,000).

“We didn’t think that the court was going to come down this hard, with 35 years. The punishment was more than we had expected,” Janjira was quoted as saying

The could also sentenced two others, Suriya Yodrak and Warachai Chadathong, to a year in prison for the complicity in the offences, but cut Suriya’s jail time to six month after he pleaded guilty.

Every year, tens of thousands of Rohingya, who are known as among some of the most persecuted minorities in the world, flee Burma and make perilous journeys in rickety boats to seek refuge in other Southeast Asian countries.

Many have perished in their pursuit of better lives, while others fall victim to human traffickers.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told Burma that the world is very concerned about the tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees who have been living for more than four years in camps in northern Rakhine state after fleeing violence from the Buddhist majority.

“They deserve hope,” Ban said at a joint news conference Tuesday with Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban is in Myanmar to attend peace talks aimed at ending half a century of conflict between the government and the country’s many armed ethnic minority groups. The talks began Wednesday in Naypyitaw, the capital. About 2,000 delegates and guests are expected to attend the opening ceremony.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

138 Myanmar detainees in Malaysia set to return home

Kuala Lumpur, Aug 7 (IANS) The first batch of 138 Myanmar nationals detained in Malaysia is set to return home on Monday, official sources said on Sunday.

The detainees, who have been issued Certificate of Identity, under the arrangement with the Kanbawza's Brighter Future Myanmar Foundation will return to Myanmar on a Myanmar International flight from Kuala Lumpur, Myanmar's Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

At present, 2,294 Myanmarese nationals are detained in 11 camps in Malayasia, the sources added.

In March 2015, a Myanmarese Navy warship carried back 102 illegal Myanmarese immigrants from Malaysia who were kept at detention camps.

More than 400,000 Myanmar immigrants are reportedly working in Malaysia, of whom about 300,000 are legal entrants, while about 40,000 are illegal. The rest are involved in various processes for refugee status.

Myanmar authorities are cooperating with Malaysian officials to protect their citizens working in the Southeast Asian country as they are often targeted victims of violence and murder there.

In September 2013, Myanmar started recalling its citizens detained in Malaysia for working illegally there.

In Malaysia, 128,800 people effectively slaves, survey finds

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Over 128,000 workers in Malaysia are employed in slave-like conditions and treated like livestock, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016.

The survey ranked Malaysia 50th out of 167 countries measured, with nearly a half per cent of the over 30 million population working in exploitative conditions described as “modern slavery”.

“[Modern] slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception, with treatment akin to a farm animal.

“For example, their passport might be taken away if they are in a foreign country, they may experience or be threatened with violence or their family might be threatened,” said the Walk Free Foundation that commissioned the report.

In the region, Malaysia was behind Singapore (130th, 9,200 people) in the number of workers considered to be modern day slaves, but ahead of Vietnam (47th, 139,300), the Philippines (19th, 401,000), Thailand (16th, 425,000) and Indonesia (10th, 736,100) The country with the most enslaved workers was India, with over 18 million, followed by China (3.3 million) and Pakistan (2.1 million). Luxembourg has the fewest at 100.

Over 45 million people across the 167 countries were in modern slavery.

Malaysia was also rated “CCC” in terms of government action to modern-day slavery, which is categorised as “limited response” as well as “limited support” for victims. The 10-tier ranking ranges from “AAA”, the best, to D, the worst.

According to the report, the majority of modern-day slaves in Malaysia — as with other richer Asian countries — were women and young girls who migrated work as domestic helpers.

“Inhumane treatment of domestic workers including starvation and sexual abuse was reported in 2015, as well as indicators of forced labour including extortionate recruitment fees, confinement to the place of employment, excessive unpaid overtime, withholding of wages and confiscation of identity documents,” the report said.

The spotlight fell on human smuggling in Malaysia and the surrounding region during a refugee crisis last year, when an estimated 6,000 to 20,000 migrants fleeing ethnic persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh were left adrift in the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

In what was dubbed a massive humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, the boat people were believed abandoned by their traffickers with little food or water.

Malaysia was previously ranked in the lowest Tier 3 of the US annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, but was upgraded to its current Tier 2 “watch list” despite the discovery of 139 graves and 28 human trafficking camps at Wang Kelian, Perlis, along the Thai border.

Lawmakers in both countries expressed suspicion at the time that Malaysia’s upgrade was to facilitate its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the Tier 3 status would have prevented the US from entering a trade deal with Malaysia.


Myanmar begins repatriation of 2,000 migrants from Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 ― Beginning this week, the Myanmar government will be beginning the process of taking home some 2,000 of its people who have been detained for months in Malaysia, Myanmar Times reported today.

The whole process could take up to a month with at least 10 chartered flights, each carrying 130 migrants on board, according to the report.

“We have plans go through this repatriation process more than 10 times, chartering flights with more than 130 on board each time,” Myanmar’s labour and immigration ministry permanent secretary U Myo Aung was quoted saying.

Migrant workers from Myanmar were detained by Malaysian authorities, reportedly for various offences, including expiration of their visas.

However, the newspaper also reported criticisms against the Myanmar embassy for allegedly taking too long to approve visa extensions for the migrant workers, which led to their detention by authorities here. As such, they were unable to return even after their citizenship had been confirmed.

The Myanmar official was also reported saying its government planned to help the workers secure jobs after repatriation, though it was unclear if it would be in Myanmar or elsewhere.

The repatriation process is being funded by private donors such as MAI Airlines and KBZ Brighter Future Myanmar Foundation.

The process was supposed to start in July, but was cancelled due to lack of funding.

Last year, tens of thousands of Myanmar and Bangladesh nationals were left stranded at sea by human traffickers in Southeast Asian waters. More than 1,000 of them landed in Malaysia’s northwestern island of Langkawi.

The subsequent investigation into the human trafficking syndicate led to discovery of 139 sites mass graves at the north of Malaysia, near the Thailand border, where Myanmar refugees, mostly from the minority Muslim Rohingya community, were believed to have been held


Let refugees work legally — Lee Hwok Aun

The Rio 2016 Olympics is making waves for reasons glorious and notorious, but the carnival of sport has made one unambiguously positive statement with the first ever inclusion of a team of refugees. The athletic participation of nationally displaced peoples, alongside those flag-bearing for their homelands, serves timely notice to Malaysia to consider ways that refugees can participate more broadly in our economy and society. In particular, we should open up channels for refugees to work formally and legally. 

Refugees in Malaysia are officially prohibited from working, but circumstances force them to take up jobs informally, enduring risk and hardship just to earn income and support their families. The system also puts compassionate employers who employ them, or want to hire, in a bind.

Why should we legalise work for refugees? First and foremost, refugees are fellow human beings, worthy of the same dignity and deserving of basic needs. They have fled persecution, oppression, forced displacement, war, and other horrors, suffering unimaginable violations of human rights, equality and dignity. They are among the most vulnerable people in the world; it is incumbent on humanity to show compassion and extend practical assistance. Moreover, if prohibited from working formally and deprived of income, refugees will be driven to informal work, and possibly illegal, undesirable activities. 

Permitting refugees to work also stands to deliver benefits to Malaysia’s economy and society. Refugee workers often take up jobs than locals shun, and in being productively employed they contribute to national income. They also tend to migrate with families and are thus likely to a substantial share of their income in the local economy. Refugees can bring skills and knowledge, add diversity, and with their relatively younger age profile, contribute a demographic dividend – they can continue to be productive for many years and across generations. 

Of course, some concerns arise on the cost side – but the evidence indicates that refugee receiving countries by and large can cope. Will local workers get displaced? Evidence from the OECD countries, which have relatively more experience in extending work access to refugees, shows that such effects are usually modest in amount. Refugees’ usage of public services are also not overly burdensome; the OECD average is 0.19 per cent of GDP. In any case, public expenditures should also not be counted solely as costs. Education and health services help cultivate a more capable and dynamic refugee population. 

There is vast room for improvement in the state of refugees here. Such communities are already in Malaysia, and the majority are working informally because otherwise they cannot feed their families. The total number of refugees registered with the UNHCR is roughly 151,000. Of these, about 124,000 are of working age (16-59 years). Approximately three quarters of refugee households have at least one person working or looking for work – all in informal work arrangements with no legal protection. They are located throughout Peninsular Malaysia, but concentrated in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (just over 60 per cent of total).

Not surprisingly, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) survey of refugees in Malaysia found them in dire states: 64 per cent find their economic conditions have worsened since arriving in Malaysia, 72 per cent believe lack of legal status is an impediment to higher income employment, while 42 per cent of households bear debt burdens. The Rohingyas and people of other Myanmar origin groups, who constitute the vast majority of refugees, are more likely to work in dangerous, strenuous and unhealthy environments. At the same time, they widely declare a willingness to work, including in plantations.

These conditions make for a compelling case that refugees should be provided the means to formal employment, on humanitarian and national interest grounds. Refugees, already residing in Malaysia, present an able and willing workforce that can work more gainfully and productively if granted formal employment permits, and that help alleviate our persisting labour shortage problems.

Most refugees are already working, performing jobs too onerous, elementary and unattractive to Malaysians. Even if more join the workforce, the impact will be minimal. Working refugees constitute less than one percent of total employed persons in Peninsular Malaysia, and if those who are not working enter the labour force, their number touches only 3 per cent of jobs advertised on JobsMalaysia.com, the Ministry of Human Resource’s employment portal. 

In terms of public provisions, the scale is similarly negligible. Malaysia does not incur expenses refugee resettlement or welfare payments. Indeed, the bulk of refugee-related budget is spent on placing them in detention facilities.

The Olympics come and go, the Rio torch will be extinguished, but the plight of refugees burns on.

All in all, there are multiple benefits and minimal costs to formally employing refugees in Malaysia. In line with the policy of hiring migrant workers who are already here and reducing the incidence of undocumented labour, it is only right, proper and opportune to channel more national attention and effort into actionable solutions for refugees.

* Lee Hwok Aun is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Development Studies, University of Malaya.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.


Malaysia working with UNHCR on more secure refugee cards

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the new cards have been issued since June under the collaboration between the Malaysian government and UNHCR. — file picturePUTRAJAYA, Aug 18 ― The Malaysian government is collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to issue new refugee identification cards with high security features, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said today.

Zahid, who is also home minister, announced that the new cards have been issued since June under the collaboration between the Malaysian government and UNHCR.

“The issuance of the card will go through tight screening steps. Therefore, the process of replacing the old UNHCR cards will take a bit of time.

“This move is intended to tackle the problem of the issuance of fake UNHCR cards,” he said in a statement today after chairing a meeting on UNHCR-related issues.

Zahid also said a joint task force will be formed in which the UNHCR and Malaysia will work together to register and issue the new cards, but said the process of determining refugee status remains fully under the organisation based on the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

The joint task force comprised senior officers from the Home Ministry, the National Security Council, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and UNHCR, he said.

On June 21, UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle launched the new card with better security features to overcome past weaknesses that allowed counterfeiting.

According to a New Straits Times’ report then, Towle had said the new card is backed by better biometric data collection, besides including security features such as 3D holograms and bar codes.

The UNHCR had also launched the UNHCR VERIFY-MY mobile application, which Towle said would enable local enforcement agencies or those doing UNHCR work to scan the “Secure Quick Response” (SQR) code on the new cards to verify their authenticity.

UNHCR’s Senior Protection Officer (Oversight) Michael Wells had said the old version of the card was easier to replicate, while the new card had one of the best technologies globally with a biometric scan of fingers, face and retina.

The NST had earlier this year reported that there are syndicates selling counterfeit UNHCR cards ― that are only meant for verified refugees and asylum seekers ― to illegal immigrants.


Monday, July 18, 2016

‘Give foreign child beggars access to schools’

Activist James Nayagam says it is part of Malaysia's obligation, after signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to look after the interests of these children.

PETALING JAYA: Children of immigrants and refugees have no choice but to beg for their survival, according to child rights advocate James Nayagam.

“Malaysia has not signed the Refugee Convention so the foreigners cannot work here and their children cannot go to school here,” he told FMT.

“So what do they do? They need to live, and most of them can’t go back to their country of origin. The Rohingyas, for example, can’t go back to Myanmar because of the genocide going on.

“So their parents send them out to beg just so they can survive.”

The 1951 Refugees Convention is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant the asylum.

Nayagam pointed out that it was not the children’s fault that they were here in the first place as they were either unaccompanied minors or had come with their parents.

He added that though Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obligates the country to take the best interests of any child into consideration.

“What is in the best interests of any child is education, healthcare and registration in terms of registering their births.

“For these foreign children, we need to allow them to go to school and become useful members of society.”

He added that currently there were 2,000 children in immigration detention centres.

“If the authorities manage to catch these foreign child beggars, then what are they going to do with them? These centres are already overflowing and it is certainly not in the best interests of the children to keep them there.”

When contacted, Klang MP Charles Santiago agreed with Nayagam’s solution for the child beggars.

“Poverty is pushing them to beg. It would be helpful if the government provides financial support through NGOs to provide meals and clothing, including education for children.”

He added that in the long run, adult beggars could be employed as some of them had skills that companies can use.

“We have a choice. Provide skills and make them productive members of society or allow them to continue begging.”

According to a recent report by StarMetro, foreign child beggars have apparently been moving from their regular spots in Klang town to areas in Shah Alam and traffic light junctions at the exit to highways.

Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad told FMT that handling these children was not the responsibility of the state governments but agreed that something had to be done to solve the issue.

“We need to take them in and find out their details because for all we know they might be taken advantage of by illegal syndicates and so on,” he said.

He also agreed that it was important to look into the alternative of sending the children to schools.

“Once we know their details, there are several things we can do. Sending them to schools is one of the options because if something is not done for these children soon, then they can grow up to be thieves or terrorists or so on.”


Malaysian police arrested Zafar for illegal entry, and deported him back to Thailand, where he was arrested…for illegal entry… and sent to jail before being deported back to Myanmar (again). Knowing that he faced death back in Myanmar, he managed to convince the boatman to….send him back to Malaysia instead. After much struggling (including one more arrest, deportation, and prison sentence), he finally made his way to Kuala Lumpur through an agent.

But although he made it to Malaysia, Zafar tells us that he was deported, not once or twice, but…

He was deported from Malaysia for a total of… 12 times!

Yes, in the span of 7 years (1996-2003), less time than most of us take to finish primary school, Zafar was arrested, deported, and made it back to Malaysia 12 times, an average of 1.7 times a year. Every single time he was deported, he was sent to Thailand, and he made his way back via a human trafficking operation which he had to pay (prices varied from RM1200 – RM2150, depending on the trafficker).

If they had no money? Well…

“If we didn’t have money, they would beat us. In some cases, they even shot to death some of us with a pistol. They would threaten us to pay them all we had, or they would send us back to Myanmar.” – Zafar

In addition to risking his life just to pass the Thailand-Malaysian border, he also had to risk his life travelling from the border to KL, including hiding in the backs of trucks and being stuffed into car boots where he almost suffocated to death. He couldn’t stay in Thailand because it was too close to Myanmar, and Malaysia was his only hope for survival, enough for him to risk his life every single time to make it back into Malaysia.

He asked the UN for help when he was in Malaysia, but wasn’t acknowledged as a refugee

Zafar continued the fight for his fellow Rohingyans by establishing the Myanmar Ethic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM) in 1998. In the year 2000, Zafar approached the Malaysian chapter of the UNHCR for help and to request for Refugee status.

After listening to his story, UNHCR refused to acknowledge Zafar as a refugee because he couldn’t sufficiently prove that he was deserving of refugee status.

To be fair, it’s not that the UNHCR doesn’t like him or anything. There is actually an application to be recognized as a refugee, and Zafar failed the application process the first time because he failed to produce the necessary documents for registration (birth cert, IC, passport, etc). This requirement is especially troublesome for Rohingyans as the Myanmarese government revoked their IDs and documentations. However, after appealing to the UNHCR to review his application, he finally got himself registered as a refugee. But that’s not the end of his problems…

Unfortunately, because he’s a refugee, Zafar cannot own any property, business, or vehicle, secure a legal job, and has no access to basic amenities such as government healthcare or schools, even though he legally married a Malaysian wife. (His wife, his father-in-law, and himself had to beg the Registration Department with tears in their eyes multiple times in order to get married, and after being constantly rejected, a kind-hearted Perak mufti finally agreed to legally marry him and his wife under Islamic law, making their marital status legal).

In fact, a doctor friend from a local gov hospital told us a heartbreaking story about the plight of refugees in Malaysia who are not part of the “privileged class”:

“I have seen pregnant women who are already in the beginnings of labour being turned away from government hospitals because they couldn’t afford to pay and were not eligible for government facilities when they had no proper documentations.

I’ve overruled the medical staff multiple times and told them to get the OT (operating theatre) ready so I could save the mother and child. As to who was going to pay, that was not my primary concern.”- Anonymous doctor friend

This makes Mr. Zafar’s story all the more amazing. As an unrecognized refugee, he managed to set up MERHROM, have an income through a kedai runcit and gerai makanan (both under his wife’s name), bring attention the ASEAN and UN leaders as to the plight of the refugees, and even managed to help Malaysians when they needed it. (Fun fact: MERHROM raised and donated RM25,000 worth of goods to the Kelantan flood victims of 2015!) His efforts has also been internationally recognized, with organizations from Hong Kong, Korea, UK and the US inviting him over to give him awards, but he is unable to attend and receive such awards(and speaking engagements) because he doesn’t have travel documents.

There are more than 154,000 refugees currently in Malaysia, most of whom live without basic rights and protection. While most of us think it can lead to increased crime rates, this is actually not true. In fact, the UNHCR actually makes it a point to screen all asylum-seekers before accepting them into the country, and that those who commit crimes are not eligible for refugee status, so there is a huge incentive for refugees to follow the law in Malaysia.

In fact, according to our Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, only 1% of all crimes in Malaysia are committed by them, though he did also say that we shouldn’t make the issue worse by hiring them, sheltering them, or renting properties out to them. 

Mr. Zafar disagrees however:

“We’re not asking for sympathy or for donations. All we ask if that we be given a legal identity, so that we can find work to provide for ourselves, for our children to go to schools, and for us to build a life."

We have a lot that we want to contribute to Malaysia, and we love Malaysia, because she has provided for us a hope and a life again. I ask that Malaysians and the Malaysian government just give us a chance.“

What can we do then?

Well, we could write to our MPs to bring the matter of Malaysia’s treatment of refugees up to Parliament, andlobby our government to formally sign the UN Convention of Refugees. Additionally, you could also donate to organizations like the UNHCR or MERHROM (they need money and supplies like rice, toiletries, etc); contact themhere to set up a donation time that is appropriate. If you own a business, perhaps you could consider giving refugees a chance to be fairly employed in your organization as well. Together, we can work to make Malaysia a welcoming second home to those who have unfortunately lost theirs.

Three Burmese Migrants Killed in Malaysia

Three Burmese migrant workers were killed and one was wounded early this morning in Malaysia’s northern Penang state, according to local sources.

“They shouted for help when they saw robbers trying to burglarize a neighbor’s house, and then the robbers went into their house and killed them,” said Maung Zaw, a member of Penang’s funeral service organization.

He said that the three workers were killed at 6:30 a.m. When the funeral service team went to see the bodies, police informed them they would be unable to hold a funeral while there was an ongoing investigation.

Sources said the four victims, who were from Mandalay Division’s Pyawbwe Township, were stabbed in Penang’s industrial zone.

Hundreds of Burmese migrant workers live in Penang’s industrial zone, many of them illegal migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who work dangerous jobs in factories and on construction sites. Due to lack of proper documentation, they often face arrest, detentions and deportation by the Malaysian authorities.

An official from the Burmese Embassy in Malaysia who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy that the embassy would investigate the incident and issue a statement later this evening.

The official added that the killing was not prompted by religious tension, after it had spread on social media that the attack might have been related to strain between Burma’s Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Many hundreds of Burmese Refugees and Migrants have been killed in Malaysia for the past 15 years. 

After 20 years in a refugee camp, Burmese family starts new life in B.C.

A group of residents from Qualicum Beach, B.C. spent several hours at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday evening anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Burmese refugee family they had privately sponsored. 

Sitting on the ground at the arrivals gate the group of volunteers knew little about the people they were about to meet. 

"We know that there is eight people — five children and three adults. We know that they're coming from a refugee camp in Thailand and we know that they wanted to come to Canada. That is all we know," said Carol Doering, one of the volunteers.

Interpreter Hserchri Trawgaye explains to the refugee family what is happening and where they will go next. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"We're here wondering what they'll be like and they're probably thinking what we are going to be like" said Doering. 

"I feel apprehensive, nervous, excited and curious about what will happen next and concerned for the family that this will be such an overwhelming process for them," said Chris Ferris, another volunteer and Qualicum Beach resident. 

The youngest in the family is 4 years old and could not stop smiling after receiving a Canadian flag and stuffed animal. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The Burmese refugee family of Karen ethnicity had spent 20 years living at Mae La refugee camp in Thailand. The children aged four to 16 were all born inside the camp.

The camp was established in 1984 after thousands of villages were burned to the ground during an armed conflict and ethnic persecution by the Burmese government. 

"The children will have no experience outside of a jungle camp. Never seen much in terms of vehicles, airplanes, concrete buildings, glass towers, people," said Doering. 

The children hold a banner that reads 'Welcome to Canada' in the refugee family's language (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Finally, the refugee family walked through the gates and soon enough the nerves from both sides were replaced with hello's and introductions. 

The volunteers introduced themselves through an interpreter and handed Canadian flags and stuffed animals to the children. 

Speaking through interpreter Hserchri Trawgaye — who is also from Burma and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand — the mother of the young children said they are very happy to be in Canada.

When asked what it was like to fly on an airplane, she described it as being in a house that is flying. 
What to do in Qualicum Beach? 

The refugee family will spend the night in Vancouver before taking a ferry over to Qualicum Beach, a town located on Vancouver Island with a population of almost 9,000 people. 

"I think they will feel at home there," said Doering. 

Qualicum Beach is a smaller community that is not often a go-to place for refugees and it also the oldest population of any community in Canada. 

"Definitely they're coming to a community that is known for its retirement scene," she said. 

Hserchri Trawgaye lives in Vancouver but is originally from Burma and also lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. She will follow the family to Qualicum Beach to help them settle in. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

But Doering hopes the green scenery of the town will make the family feel at home. 

After the family has settled in, the focus will be on teaching them English and helping them adjust to life in Canada, which may include anything from teaching them how to use a stove or go grocery shopping. 

"I hope they just try and be a family. Walk around, feel a sense that there is no barbed wires. You can walk the streets, you're safe," said volunteer Anna Grieve. 

The children will be attending school come September and the parents will be given an opportunity to work at a Thai restaurant or work on a farm, as they have in the past. 
It all started with a house

The entire journey began in January, when the town of Qualicum Beach put out a request for ideas on what to do with a former RCMP station that was sitting empty. 

Chris Ferris and her husband came up with the idea to use the house for a refugee family. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"We were out walking by the house and thought, maybe the town would be interested in giving that house to refugees," said Chris Ferris, who came up with the idea with her husband one night. 

After a town meeting was held the plan was approved and the sponsorship process began. 

Volunteers and residents of Qualicum Beach get the house ready for the refugees to move into once they arrive. (Qualicum Refugee Sponsorship Group/Facebook)

But the volunteer group was expecting a Syrian refugee family, not a family from Burma, also known as Myanmar. 

"I think that was everyone's expectation because that's what was in the news and you didn't hear about other families," said Doering, adding that the group wasn't really concerned about where the family would be from. 

The refugee family will be able to live at the house rent free for 18 months, with the volunteer group covering the cost of utilities.