The impact of COVID-19 of course has had major impact on all communities in Malaysia, including the refugee community.
The initial impact on the refugee community was calamitous. Government-announced Movement Control Orders (MCOs) in March 2020 imposed 'lockdown' on locations and also closed down much ecomomic activity. The majority of refugees almost overnight lost any access to income opportuinities (already precarious given the lack of legal status for refugees in Malaysia) and faced major livelihood issues.
Like many other groups, we set out to raise funds for emergency help. We were fortunate enough to raise a little over RM200,000 in the first three months, which allowed us through the Penang Refugee Network to reach some 2,300 refugee families and some 750 single refugees. This was with sadly minimal help, but at least it was something. Half of the amount came from the Penang State Government; the rest from a very generous public donation.
And we worked very hard to coordinate emergency efforts with the many other groups also reaching out to the community. We had a Penang Coordinating group facilitated by UNHCR, and which included members like Caremongers Penang, Global Development Asssistance, Malaysian Relief Agency, MSF, ICMC, and many others. Through the work of all these groups, possibly 3,500 families were reached at least once, with many reached multiple times.
Please check out our Report for details of what we did and how, and the many remaining challenges which still exist.
At the same time, there were particular information needs faced by women, children and men in refugee communities, particularly for those who faced literacy difficulties.
Working with persons from the Penang Refugee Network and NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontiere (MSF) and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) we quickly came up with briefings including voice files carrying key messages.
And working with a team from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, we helped design and test a mobile app to carry relevant information re Covid19 and related information.
And as time went by, we have undertaken a major project under the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) which is funded by the European Union. Please check this link for more information on this.
Absolutely key to our response has been the leadership and commitment of refugee community leaders and their networks. They have been the ones identfying families and individuals in their communities, distributing assistance and keeping all necessary records and documentation.
Flood Relief, December 2017
INITIATIVE with the support of the European Union/Suhakam
Starting in December 2020, we also undertook a project following an invitation from the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) with the funding support of the European Union. This project was was able to provide further assistance to particularly vulnerable households (40 elderly, 40 single mothers) affected by Covid. It also provided extensive support for Covid19 testing, and added some longer-term capacity and skill building for women and youth via supporting language and computer classes.
The project was delivered nearly entirely through our refugee team of community workers, community leaders, class facilitators and interviewers. It has been a testament to the skills, motivation and capacity of this group of refugees that the community-based network which has been building so consistently over the years is now able to take on a project like this and meet all the different aspects.