ACCORDING to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2011, the largest group of refugees in Malaysia is from Myanmar. Most of the refugees are Christian Chins and Muslim Rohingyas, and about 22% of them are aged below 18, 31% are females, and 33% of the females are below 18 years old.
My colleagues Lee Wan Ying and Goh Lee Ying and I conducted a study to understand the quality of life among child refugees in Selangor. Assisted by five refugee centres in the state, we successfully collected data from 89 child refugees aged between eight and 18 years. Our findings suggest that the quality of life of these child refugees are affected by three core factors – their experience of deportation, level of education and their father’s employment. In other words, child refugees who have a chance to pursue a higher level of education, who have not been deported and whose father is employed are more likely to have a better quality of life.
Based on these findings, there is much to be concerned over the current and future situation of child refugees in Malaysia. Their existence cannot be ignored as they have been here for a long time. Without any appropriate strategies to improve their quality of life, their chances of resettling in other countries may be further narrowed, leaving them no choice but to remain in Malaysia. The lack of opportunities for self-development and improvement may see them becoming a social burden rather than an asset in the near future.
We suggest that the Government take the necessary steps to tackle this problem by helping to improve the quality of life among the child refugees who are now in our midst.
If they are recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, we need to provide adequate opportunities for them to get a good education, jobs for their parents so that they can earn wages to support their children’s studies, and protection against the risk of being caught and deported. With good education, we believe the child refugees and their families will have a better chance to be resettled in other countries.
We hope that Malaysians will be compassionate and do not ignore the suffering and discrimination these child refugees encounter in this country.
We must take immediate action to improve their quality of life while they are here. The Government is strongly encouraged to relook the Convention on the Rights of the Child which stipulates “no discrimination of any kind against children.”
We need to look into all possible dimensions to improve or at least maintain their quality of live while they are here.
We understand this will take time but every journey starts with a small step.
As caring Malaysians, we have to take that step to help them move on.
ASSOC PROF DR SIAH POH CHUA
Department of Psychology and Counselling
Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman