Refugee Crisis in Malaysia Workshop

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Creating Awareness and Networking for The Plight of Refugees in Malaysia

The 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees was observed on September 24th by the Catholic Church this year.  His Holiness Pope Francis has chosen the theme “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay” and in His message stated that the decision to migrate should always be free, yet in many cases, it is not.  Conflicts, natural disasters, or more simply the impossibility of living a dignified life in one’s native land is forcing millions of people to leave. To make migration a choice that is truly free, joint efforts are needed by individual countries and the international community to ensure that all enjoy the right not to be forced to emigrate, in other words, the chance to live in peace and with dignity in one’s own country.

Collaboration between the church and the NGOs

In conjunction with this event, Caritas Diocese of Penang and Parish Caritas Minor Basilica of St Anne, Bukit Mertajam collaborated with Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) / Doctors without Borders to conduct a workshop on “Refugee Crisis in Malaysia” on 23rd September at the Minor Basilica of St Anne, Bukit Mertajam.

God, Father Almighty, grant us the grace to work tirelessly for justice, solidarity and peace, so that all your children may enjoy the freedom to choose whether to migrate or to stay. Grant us the courage to denounce all the horrors of our world, and to combat every injustice that mars the beauty of your children and the harmony of our common home. Sustain us by the power of your Spirit, so that we can reflect your tender love to every migrant whom you place in our path, and to spread in hearts and in every situation the culture of encounter and of care.

During the half day workshop, MSF shared about their operational presence in Malaysia since 2015 as part of their response to the Rohingya crisis and provided an overview of the regional refugee crisis. They engaged with participants and addressed misconceptions and distinguished the differences between asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants. They also discussed the factors contributing to the displacement and challenges faced by refugees.  MSF also highlighted initiatives and challenges in providing primary healthcare at their KM6 medical clinic in Butterworth.

This was followed by a session where members from Caritas, church ministries, various NGOs and learning centres for refugee children shared their services to migrants and refugees. The challenges faced by them in getting volunteers, financial constraints and reaching out to refugees and asylum seekers who live in fear of being caught by authorities was emphasized.  The application for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documentation, which serves the purpose to recognize a refugee or asylum seeker for international protection is a long process during which time they can be subjected to being caught and sent to detention centres. 

During the workshop it was evident that church ministries and organizations are stepping forward in advocating the rights of refugees. But unfortunately, the scale of the refugee crisis in Malaysia is enormous. Church parishes networking with NGOs and learning centres would certainly create a better impact in restoring dignity among the refugees.

Working together is the way forward

Caritas Diocese of Penang will be creating a database of NGOs providing services to migrants and refugees and learning centres for refugee children, that would be shared with the parishes in the Diocese of Penang and hence help to network and work together for these particularly vulnerable group of people.

The synodal path that we have undertaken as a Church leads us to see in those who are most vulnerable – among whom are many migrants and refugees – special companions on our way, to be loved and cared for as brothers and sisters. Only by walking together will we be able to go far and reach the common goal of our journey. – Pope Francis (Excerpts from message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees)

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