Ref-UP: A chance to be more

August 2019

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that about 70.8 million women, men and children have been forcibly displaced globally because of war, violence and persecution.

In Southeast Asia, the large scale displacement of about 700,000 Rohingyas in 2017, with the numbers increasing in 2018, has made the region a significant hub for the refugee population.  The spillover effect of this phenomenon has led to the emergence of Malaysia as a significant host country to refugees and asylum seekers from about 40 countries.

UNHCR Malaysia has reported that there are 175,760 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, the majority of whom are from Myanmar, with others coming from war and conflict-enduring countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and so on.

While Malaysia has provided refuge to populations who are fleeing from persecution since the 1970s, the country lacks a legal and administrative framework to protect refugees.  As a result, refugees and asylum seekers inhabit a fragile environment where they experience significant barriers to basic livelihood opportunities, healthcare and education.

Since 2017, Ref-UP, a sub-committee by Monash University Medicos Society (MUMedS), has been actively engaged in health promotion for refugee children and teachers. This voluntarism was born from a desire to respond to humanitarian crises as doctors in the making. In 2019, with an increase from 21 to 108 student volunteers, MUMedS formalised Ref-UP to focus on community service programmes and activities for refugees.

In conjunction with World Refugee Day 2019, Ref-UP organised a two-day event on the 1st and 2nd of August 2019 to raise awareness of refugees among the students of Monash University Malaysia.

The event was officiated by Professor Andrew Walker, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Monash University Malaysia, and Professor Mohamed Shajahan bin Mohamed Yasin, Head of Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia.

In her speech, the Chairperson of Ref-UP and Community Service Officer of MUMedS, Sally-Anne Ting, shared her hopes in further dismantling the stereotypes and challenges faced by refugees in Malaysia.

The event began with a panel discussion on the first day, moderated by Dr Susheela Balasundaram, Head of Health Unit at UNHCR. The distinguished panel speakers included Dr Foo Seay Liang from UNHCR Tzu-Chi Foundation, Ms Asma, Community Health Worker on Mental Health with Health Equity Initiatives, Mr Hrang Cung Hnin, Community Health Worker on Mental Health and Prince, Monash University Malaysia (MUM) student who is also a refugee.

This was followed by a fun-and-games day on the second day, which included a donation drive, carnival, fundraising, and tele-match.

During the second day of the event, refugees made a significant contribution to the fundraising with their cooking and entrepreneurship skills, demonstrating their capabilities to support themselves if given the opportunity.

A special session was also organised for the refugee school that the Ref-UP team works with.

Refugee children toured the university and had a session with MUM student, Prince, a second-generation Rohingyan. He shared his life experience, hardship and success with the refugee children as a means to motivate them to persevere and work hard toward their goals.

The turnout for the event was a massive success and all profits go to the refugee learning centre that Ref-UP is currently providing support to.