From UNHCR Canada:
Often classified unfairly with economic migrants, refugees flee their country not for economic gain but to escape persecution, the threat of imprisonment and even threats to their lives. They need a safe haven where they can recover from mental and physical trauma and rebuild their hopes for a better future.
The intolerance that is often at the root of internal displacement and refugee flows is also present in some of the countries that refugees flee to. Instead of finding empathy and understanding, they are often met with mistrust or scorn.
On World Refugee Day, let’s not forget that some day in the future any one of us could be knocking at a stranger’s door hoping to find a safe and friendly shelter. We should extend refugees the same kind of welcome we would like to receive if we were in their position.
While most refugees want to go home, some cannot safely return. But wherever they are, refugees will always strive to pick up the pieces and start over. The courage and determination demonstrated during their darkest hours will serve them well in rebuilding a new life. On World Refugee Day, let us honour them for these qualities and recognise the richness and diversity they bring to our societies.
Like other countries in South and Southeast Asia, Malaysia has become a major destination for political refugees from Myanmar. But like these countries, refugees are far from welcome. Often dehumanised, mistreated, trafficked for labour and sexual exploitation, and sometimes forcibly repatriated back, their plight are often ignored simply because they are undocumented and a “drain” on the host country’s resources.
What kind of “Islamic” country is Malaysia when we refuse to offer shelter to our Rohingya brothers and sisters? What kind of “Islamic” leaders were Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to “push back” incoming asylum seekers from our shores?
It’s time Malaysia and countries in the region recognised refugees as legal migrants, and work with the international community to alleviate the financial burden of hosting new arrivals and pressure the Burmese junta towards forming a functional democracy. But it’s also time we rethink our privileges as Malaysians and our dehumanising concept of “illegal immigration”. No one should be illegal.