Refugees have no legal rights in Malaysia, meaning they have no official status. This is described earlier. They are not allowed to work 'legally', have no right to education, no rights to own anything, and access to other services can be arbitrary and expensive. They are completely vulnerable to harassment and exploitation, including by persons from enforcement agencies. They have very few avenues for redress and all too little support from persons in the local (Malaysian) community. So there is plenty to advocate about.
We are committed to making sure that advocacy does not happen independently of the refugee community (as, sadly, it so often does). Creating opportunities for local Penang-based refugee advocacy is one key part of our work, as described in other pages. Linking in to other refugee groups and leaders as well as NGOs, individuals and others working with refugees is also a part of our work.
Our advocacy starts with asking for a legal status for refugees in Malaysia, one of our Core Principles. It extends to highlighting the rights of everyone to be protected at work and to have access to basic education and healthcare. The advocacy also includes wider issues related to what has happened to refugees in their home country, highlighting the geo-politics that is so often so detrimental to peoples' rights and protection. And it takes in issues such as modern day slavery and human trafficking, both experienced extensively by the refugee community in Malaysia.
Advocacy here is hard work. Respective federal governments in Malaysia have shown little sympathy, despite some protestations of support. Xenophobia is never far away and is often ramped up when it suits the purposes of certain politicians and political parties.
But we continue to try, adding our voice to the voices of others. because without any legal status and with little or no right to redress, refugees live in a limbo land, with no future and no obvious reason to hope. It is purely a struggle to survive, subject every day to the possibility of harassment, extortion, abuse, arrest and/or possible detention. The lack of protection afforded to refugees also of course allows human trafficking and modern day slavery to flourish.
Onwards and forwards.
Part of a panel discussion at Penang Refugee Fest 2019
Participation in an advocacy event in KL