At the beginning of the Movement Control Order (MCO), we had the chance to talk to Mahi, from Beyond Borders Malaysia, an NGO working tirelessly to protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons. Although some of the restrictions of the MCO has now been lifted, and we are glad that improvements have been done but in the initial stages, it was quite a challenging time for NGOs who were working hard to provide aid to vulnerable communities affected by the pandemic.

Please tell us a little about the work you are undertaking and why this is important?

I run an NGO called Beyond Borders Malaysia which works to promote and protect the interest of refugees and stateless persons. From the start of this movement control order (MCO), what we have done is, we have tried to supply things like groceries, face masks, sanitizers, and also women’s kits to not just the refugees and stateless persons but also to migrants as well as Malaysians who need them. It is extremely crucial for every CSO and NGO and also individuals to be able to do whatever they can in terms of pulling the resources together, logistics together, infrastructure, and using that to actually provide for people who need them. It is an incredibly difficult time. Businesses are shutting down. People do not have jobs, they are out of jobs, especially people who do odd jobs and who earn daily wage. They are absolutely stranded. People who are poor are stranded. Migrant workers and refugees who rely on day to day jobs are all stranded. And, I am afraid that as we continue to increase the number of days under the MCO, this problem is going to grow bigger. And, it is really unfortunate in a country like Malaysia, there are many who are going without food. That is really sad.    

What role has the government played/failed to play?

Well, the government has done something, like enacted the MCO even though the next day after the announcement by the Prime Minister (PM) there was absolute chaos but, we also have to understand the fact that this is the first time , it’s unprecedented situation that the PM is actually facing, that the government is facing and there are bound to be errors here and there. But, what really bothers me is the fact that some of the decisions seem to be really ill thought out. Like for example, shrinking the number of hours that restaurants and supermarkets can still be open and also e-hailing. So what they are actually doing, you know, there are X number of people who are still have to go to supermarkets but the time that they get to spend is shorten which means that there is going to be a crowd, it is going to draw crowd as opposed to allowing or enabling people to socially distance themselves. The other thing is the 10 km radius where you are allowed to travel for medical treatment and emergencies. When there is an emergency, it is absolutely difficult for you to obtain permission or to figure out a way to get to a hospital, and even if there are no emergencies, there are appointments that need to be kept, for example appointments for people who go to cardiovascular clinics, who go to cancer clinics in designated hospitals. So, this is rather nonsensical. And, while there is effort to actually now allow CSOs and NGOs to actually supply groceries and other essential items, dry and cooked food as well, this unfortunately does not include access to non-Malaysians and this is incredibly appalling I must say.

What would you like to see happen in the new future?

You know, the good side of CoronaVirus is the fact that we have refugees cooking for our frontline medical workers. We have people who may not have that much, sharing whatever little that they have because they believe in a common good, they believe that they are people who are worth more than them who could benefit from that little that they donated because actually every Ringgit counts. It is incredibly heartwarming to see Malaysians from different walks of life come together to make sure their neighbours, people who they do not know, refugees, migrants, are actually fed and that they have groceries in their house. So, I think this is beautiful and I hope that we can heal as a nation because there has been lots of play of religion on politics by politicians. It has divided people or there have been attempts to divide people. I hope we can go beyond all that and we can also embrace refugees, stateless people, people whose immigration status isn’t that well defined. So, in short, I hope that post Covid19, we can all come together as one person, one nation. I hope that the nation can heal.

What kind of support do you need for this work? What has been the impact so far (number of people helped, etc)

We have helped hundreds of refugee families, migrant families and also Malaysians who come from the B40 economic group. But, what is the one thing that CSOs and NGOs, charity organizations really need definitely funding. It is incredibly difficult as we do shoutouts on Facebook, we are actually appealing to the same group of people. Now in my case, I’m extremely grateful to Air Asia because they are running a fundraising campaign and they have included Beyond Borders Malaysia as one of the beneficiaries. So, I hope that corporate organizations will be able to actually shout out for funding so that people who work on the ground, such as myself and others, my colleagues, people who work alongside me or I work alongside with are able to do that much more for people who are in need.

Does this have a gendered element? Does it impact women differently from men?

Of course it affects women differently. If you really look at some of the announcements given by the stimulus package, it does not really or necessarily actually extend to women, women who are at risk for example. And also, in a situation like this , just like when you have marginalized communities, women tend to be left behind, women tend to not get aid, women tend to be those who are actually more affected physically, mentally. And also now we see a rise in domestic violence which means that, you know because people are together right 24/7, so which means that women are adversely affected. We are also hearing about cases involving children, the Talian Kasih getting that many more phone calls which means children are also affected, most probably girls as well. So, yes there is a gendered element here and I think that the government should give that a little bit more priority, a little bit more thought. It does not help when the Women’s Ministry actually comes up with the statement saying that women who are at home actually need to be wearing makeup and have to be sophisticatedly dressed, look appealing, speak in a soft voice and not nag the husband. None of this actually works. Because I would like to think that we have progressed together and to have something like this just dampens all of that. So yes, women are more at risk especially with the increase in domestic violence, and other issues including access to health and the economic stimulus package. I hope that the government can look at that a bit more.

To find out more about Beyond Borders Malaysia, click here.

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