As the world considers the contribution and struggles of refugees it is important to not forget that 42% are children. These include unaccompanied and separated children, child brides, victims of domestic and family violence and children subject to significant poverty and destitution.
Since August 2020, HOST Malaysia has provided community based support to 202 refugee children from the Rohingya and Myanmar-Muslim ethnicities within Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, with financial support from UNICEF and the European Union. This work involves training 22 community leaders to be eyes and ears for identifying children at risk in their community and supporting local community based organisations to respond to urgent child protection needs.
Daily life for refugees living in Malaysia can be a challenge as they have no legal status and therefore no right to work and face constant risk of arrest and deportation. In Malaysia, COVID19 has caused a number of Movement Control Orders (MCOs) which have added addition stress to families as they have been unable to earn income through informal work and many families are struggling to buy food or pay rent. Children have also been unable to attend school and access medical care when needed. Furthermore, refugees are reluctant to seek assistance from government authorities due to higher than usual arrests of refugees who turn up for medical services.
Our team in Malaysia has witnessed many children going without food and families facing eviction from their homes. This has caused some children to start begging and has significantly increased the risk of trafficking, exploitation and child marriage. HOST has been working with community volunteers and UNHCR to ensure that food aid is provided and that high risk children receive appropriate protection support.
Rahmat, a community caseworker, felt” tormented” when he learnt that a single father had to leave his two young sons (age 7 and 5), locked in a room while he goes to work. The children’s father is unable to work full-time and hence, he can no longer afford to pay for a babysitter to look after them while he is at work. The father feels guilty, sad and anxious whenever he is at work, thinking about his sons’ situation, but he has no other choice because he needs the income to support him and his sons. He does not have any other relatives in Malaysia who can assist him and does not know any locals who he can ask for help. Rahmat helps to monitor these children to make sure they are not neglected or harmed in any way.
Shomim, who is also a caseworker and a refugee himself, strives to help the children which he supports by providing them with the relevant information such as introducing mental health intervention options or education programs that are provided by other partner organizations. Many refugees do not know what services are available, including the free health clinics which refugees can access. Shomim feels that by sharing this knowledge with them, they will feel more empowered and will be able to seek assistance when necessary. Being a part of this project makes Shomim feel happy because he is able to give back to his own community.
The team were recently able to mobilise local food donations during fasting month in May 2021 and were able to distribute food packages to 50 children. The caseworkers were able to conduct a home visit and verify the safety of children. The children appeared to be excited and overwhelmed by this gesture and were more hopeful following these donations.
The theme for World Refugee Day 2021 is “Together We Heal, learn and shine”. This slogan is in line with the work that is being done by HOST in Malaysia. There we are actively engaging multiple local partners to ensure that refugees are aware of the supports available and are connected to local networks of support at this time. Our goal at HOST Malaysia is to see these children shine and thrive in their environment, have access to interventions in a timely manner and to ensure that their overall well-being is maintained. Slowly, but surely, we hope that these children will be able to heal, learn and shine.
This project is part of the Protecting children affected by migration in Southeast, South, and Central Asia Project which is a project, implemented by UNICEF and HOST International, and co-funded by the European Union and UNICEF.