All smiles: Young (second from right) having a light moment with a Rohingya student at their education centre in Batu Belah, Klang.
KLANG: Eyes were drawn to the unusual presence of a group of Asean Young Leaders delegates walking up the stairs of a humble shop house in Batu Belah, housing a Rohingya Education Centre.
The 13 delegates from Australia, Canada, Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Myanmar, and Vietnam as well as Malaysia visited the centre as part of their community project during the Asean Young Leaders Summit.
The students at the centre, aged between 10 and 17, shyly shook hands and greeted the delegates.
They are the stateless children of the Rohingya community, a Muslim minority from Myanmar, who made up part of the 222 student population at the “school”, run by non-governmental organisation Future Global Islamic Network (FGIN).
FGIN’s education project director Nur Azlina Abdul Aziz said most of the children were born in Malaysia and possess UNHCR refugee cards.
Without citizenship or birth certificates, these children could not enter public schools.
They turn to the centre for education instead.
“We focus on education at this centre as we believe it is the way to develop these refugee children and nurture the underprivileged,” she said.
As there are no refugee camps in Malaysia, the students and their families, some who have been here since 1982, assimilate with the local community.
“Although Malaysia is not obligated to provide protection for the refugees, whatever help we give is based on humanitarian grounds,” she told the delegates.
The biggest challenge the centres face, with two other being in Penang and Kuantan, is funding.
The centre only charges a monthly RM10 as ‘school fee’ for each student.
Australian Jotham Young, 20, and Canadian Cherrie Lam, 22, said they had heard of the Rohingya refugee crisis but did not realise its gravity.
“This has been eye-opening for me. I didn’t know much about them and it’s especially interesting to note that they do not have passports like the Palestinian or Syrian refugees,” Lam said.
The delegates sat in a briefing by Nur Azlina and spent time with the students in a sharing session.
They later helped the children paint the centre and discussed ways to help the refugee issue.
Malaysia Gold Award Association president Suhail Mohamed Kamaruddin, who coordinated the programme with the Youth and Sports Ministry, said although the refugee issue was off limit at the Asean Leaders Summit, he hoped the young leaders would benefit from the visit and advocate the cause to their respective government leaders.