In 2013, EngageMedia in collaboration with Citizen Journalists Malaysia (CJMY) worked to highlight the stories of some 150,000 ethnic minorities who flee to seek refuge in Malaysia due to prolonged conflict and persecution in Myanmar. The collaboration gave birth to Crossroads, a video advocacy project that teaches migrant rights activists, video production and distribution skills.
A collection of 12 videos were produced, that highlights the plight of the Myanmar refugee community in Malaysia. ‘In Search of Shelter‘ is one of the 12 videos which tells the story of asylum seekers share how they’ve united and combined resources to establish access to basic services like health clinics and primary schools for their children. However, they also face many hurdles related to the difficulties in getting registered as refugees with the UNHCR in Malaysia, which results in the teachers of the schools they set up geting arrested by the police due to their lack of legal status.
At one of the community screenings of Crossroads we held in Malaysia, we found that 80% to 90% of those present have had personal experiences being harassed by the police or faced problems with permits and employers. One member of the audience pointed out that there have been incidences where even if they produce their registered refugee card or supporting letter, the document was simply torn up by the authorities that had approached them.
Malaysia, which has stated that it will not sign the UN convention on refugees, also does not have any legal framework for national asylum and does not distinguish between refugees and undocumented migrants, leaving refugees at constant risk of detention, deportation and abuse. An undercover investigation by Al-Jazeera in 2014 revealed that some refugees pay up to $1,000 for official refugee status in Malaysia, as part of an illegal trade allegedly involving the UN Refugee Agency itself.
With continued reports on acts injustice and exploitation committed against refugees in Malaysia, it remains to be seen how its government and the UNCHR will effectively address this grave and growing situation.