KUALA LUMPUR: SOME 30 refugee children were given the opportunity to shop for clothes of their choice recently, thanks to Uniqlo Malaysia Sdn Bhd, a leading global Japanese retail company that designs, manufactures and sells clothes.
The children who attended the Myanmar Refugee Community Learning Centre were taken on a special shopping spree at the Uniqlo outlet in Mid Valley Megamall here.
The school’s head teacher Ruth Duat said the children who got to go shopping were those who performed well in the mid-term examination and those who came from a needy family with many siblings.
The kids, aged 9 to 13, were given RM300 each to spend and had the run of the outlet at 8am before regular shopping hours commenced.
A Uniqlo spokesman said each child was assisted by a “buddy”, who is a Uniqlo staff member, to help them shop for clothes of their choice within the budget.
She said the event, jointly organised with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was not only to provide a shopping experience for the children but also to teach them to make wise decisions when shopping and managing their expenses.
It was exciting for the children as they modelled their new clothes with their “buddies”. The best three won stationery as prizes.
Hana, 12, from the Chin ethnic group said: “I am so happy and excited. This is the first time I am shopping with my friends in a big shopping mall. I am thankful to Uniqlo for this opportunity.”
Another child, Mang Bu, 12, from the Zomi ethnic group, said he was overjoyed to shop for new clothes as he was the third child among five male siblings and his father, a driver, was the sole bread winner of his family.
“We are the first retailer in Malaysia to provide in-store shopping for refugee children,” said the Uniqlo spokesman.
“This is our second programme with UNHCR in Malaysia. Our first project with refugees was in September this year, where we collected wearable used clothes from our customers and set up a mini store at Chin Refugee Women and Children Care Centre here for them to pick clothes.”
Globally, Uniqlo stores have been supporting humanitarian assistance for refugees since 2007 through its product recycling initiative and works with organisations such as UNHCR to distribute clothes to refugee camps worldwide.
UNHCR representative Richard Towle said: “Refugees are ordinary people like us who have been forced to flee their countries because of war, armed conflict or serious human rights abuses.
“While in exile, their needs are the same as ours — family, health, employment, security and a future. However, living in Malaysia without a legal status is difficult and it is a disadvantage for refugees. Their children do not have access to public schools and are denied normal childhood experiences due to living as refugees.
“UNNCR wishes to thank Uniqlo for its commitment towards assisting refugees and we appreciate an event like this. This is a great opportunity for the children to feel like other children. It’s rare that they get to walk out of retail outlet with new clothes.”
On the issue of beggars believed to be refugees, Towle said: “No one likes to see children begging in the streets but the underlining problem here is that they are here illegally and have no work rights. Unfortunately, many families decide to put their children out in streets to earn a living.
“This is something we have to deal with by helping the families to earn a living lawfully and keep refugee children in schools.”
Towle expressed his hope that the refugees would be allowed to live in Malaysia legally and work so that they can live comfortably.
“Refugee children need a future. They must be able to get proper education like other children,” he said.