PETALING JAYA: The refugee communities in Malaysia have welcomed the proposal for their women to help fill the demand for domestic workers in the country.
“Some Somali women are already working as home servants and clean houses or offices part-time,” said S. Sharif Mohamed, leader of the Somali refugee community in Gombak, Kuala Lumpur.
“The women who are here are mostly war or political widows and they rely on assistance from relatives and friends. Working as maids will give them a chance to be self-dependent. The work experience will also give them a better chance to get work if they go to a third country after Malaysia,” he added.
There are currently 1,170 Somali refugees – over 90% of whom are women in the country.
Sharif believes cultural difference will not be an issue.
“Although African culture is different from Asian culture, as Muslims we share many similarities with the Malaysian Muslims.”
The proposal will also help many Myanmar refugees who need to support their families with a stable income, said Moe Moe Khing, the women affairs coordinator for the Burma Refugee Organisation.
While they welcome the plan to allow refugees in Malaysia to work, Mohammad Sadek, programme coordinator for the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee said Rohingya women would need to receive education and some training before they are able to go out and work.
He said one worry they have is that UNHCR will stop their aid and support if the refugees start working.
Tenaganita executive director Dr Irene Fernandez said the refugees’ rights should be protected in the event they are hired as maids.
“The shortage of domestic workers is there because we do not have laws and polices in place to protect their rights. Unless and until we put the right protection in place, we should not be recruiting anyone into domestic work, much less refugees who are already vulnerable to exploitation,” said Dr Fernandez.