Project Stand Up (PSU) is a youth led initiative focused on improving access to and participation in education, particularly for girls.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early this year, millions of lives have been affected. Many people, globally and in Malaysia, have lost something dear to their hearts. The freedom of simply going out to meet and hug friends has been taken away. The feeling of being inside a classroom and learning with classmates at the school/university is no more. Families have lost loved ones. Refugee youths in Malaysia face these obstacles too. The only difference is we have been facing them for years before the pandemic even started.
As a refugee youth, my life, like anyone else, hasn’t been the same since the Movement Control Order (MCO) restriction order in Malaysia. Staying at home for me means more responsibilities on top of what I already have; my role at Project Stand Up (PSU) and the classes I teach for primary- aged students. Since the pandemic, I’ve had increased responsibilities at home, including having to take care of my siblings, helping my siblings study-online, and taking care of sick family members. All of these have made it difficult for me to commit time to learning and doing the things I enjoy most – PSU and studying by myself.
Around the world, girls spend 550 million hours doing household chores- 160 million hours more than boys their age spend! This is according to a report from UNICEF titled, “Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls .” This is because of the gender roles and norms, which in a pandemic, like now, are exacerbated. Check out our earlier article to know more about gender inequity in refugee communities.
In addition to having more responsibilities at home, our social life has also changed. For example, I used to meet my Project Stand Up (PSU) teammates (who are my friends too) each week. Now we have to meet online. When we met in person, we used to motivate each other and have fun breaks, which is hard now because we can only telecommunicate. This is the case for many company teams as well. It’s harder to connect to people online as in person, resulting in not talking to friends as much as compared to before. It can also be isolating. For some young people, getting out to go to school or to PSU really helps them if they face stress at home or if they do not have a lot of space or time at home to themselves.
Like Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
I have been focusing my energy on how to overcome the challenges I am facing, which I’ve seen are similar for other young people. Although it was hard to come over the responsibilities at home, what has helped me is creating a daily routine where I pick and allocate time for studying, working, and everything else that I usually do. Moreover, I ask for support from my family to help me with home tasks whenever I am too busy. For my social life, I’m trying as much as I can to connect with people online. Not just for PSU, but including calls for just having quality fun time with my PSU team.
Although everyone has their own responsibilities at home, meeting at least once a week has been very helpful. We are lucky to be able to do this because we continue to have the internet. For some families, they do not have this, which is even more isolating for them. Refugees are not allowed to work in Malaysia and very few, if any, have savings, so some basics like the internet can easily be lost during a time like the MCO. Similarly, for example, when the pandemic started, I know there were a lot of refugees who were not able to pay for their rent and were faced with having to leave their homes with nowhere to live.
Many communities, particularly refugees, are still facing difficulties during these unprecedented times. There has been great support from many Malaysian organisations and from refugees themselves to help whenever they can. For example, some of our PSU members have worked to help with challenges our community faced. We’ve been able to use skills we’ve learned in PSU to help organise food distribution for refugee families affected by the pandemic, and we’ve been working with community leaders to help respond to emergency cases. For the majority of refugees, life before the pandemic was hard and the pandemic has only made it more difficult.
Malaysia is not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. This means we do not have rights in Malaysia and it’s harder to find jobs, and even if we found one, it’s dangerous because authorities will check and then detain us, just for working to provide a living for our families.
Another basic right that we lack is education. Refugees are not allowed to access formal education, which means thousands of school-aged children are not receiving any education. Though there are a lot of efforts from UNHCR Malaysia and different NGOs, it is still an issue. In the case of Secondary and Higher Education opportunities for refugees, many are struggling to complete their studies and find a university that accepts them. Refugees are considered “illegal” in Malaysia and therefore are not granted the same rights as its citizens.
While this is the case, there are some efforts to make changes in order to make it possible for refugees to work. For instance, Tenaganita is a human rights and non-profit organisation that protects migrants and refugees. You can sign their petition mentioned below to support in making this happen.
Another example is how universities in Malaysia are proposing the government to allow refugees to enrol in higher education using their UNHCR identifications. One important initiative is a white paper titled “Towards Inclusion of Refugees in Higher Education in Malaysia” which proposes that the government recognise the UNHCR Refugee Card as an identity document to facilitate enrolment in private learning institutions. There are many organisations that are working to protect refugees’ rights despite them not having legal recognition.
There are also many stories of refugees giving back to their communities in Malaysia. One story for instance is about a refugee tailor from Afghanistan, who helped in sewing personal protective equipment for hospitals and clinics that provide COVID-19 screenings. He said, “I believe that refugees can contribute to the society as we all live together in Malaysia,” Read his full story here.
Refugees can help the Malaysian society grow economically, socially, and more. For that reason, we hope that refugees can be recognised and given rights.
Our hope for the future is to have a place where refugees are empowered and taught skills they need to support themselves and give back to the communities they are a part of. We also hope Malaysia will sign the convention and recognise refugees.
Additionally, we wish to see more Malaysians supporting refugees as not everyone knows about the refugee situation in the country.
How can you help?
There are many ways you can be involved!
● Sign this Petition to allow refugees to have the right to work.
● Learn more about refugees and their rights by reading more stories. Raise awareness and
share the stories with your friends and family.
● Give to PSU so we can help young people not feel isolated during the pandemic by
donating today to support our work to create opportunities for refugee youth.
● Follow PSU on social media to see how young people are working to create opportunities
for girls and to involve boys and young men.
● Read this to know more about organisations that you can volunteer at.
To conclude, I will leave this question, should Malaysia ratify the conventions that would protect refugees rights? If you believe ‘YES!’ then I encourage you to take a step forward and invite others to do the same!
PSU Social Media and Contact Information:
- Instagram: @project_stand_up
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Project-Stand-Up-249901338911529/
- Website: https://projectstandup.squarespace.com/
- Email: email@example.com