Wednesday, April 12, 2006

beyond the barbed wire: refugees in malaysia

Malaysia: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR, 2006) claims that nearly 40 thousand refugees have been registered by them, Kuala Lumpur. Independent sources from other local NGO’s reckon that the real number of refugees (registered + unregistered) exceed hundred thousand

Where do these people come from? What are some of their problems? Are they dangerous people? Those were some of the questions answered by the 11 minute documentary “beyond the barbed wire” created by *ahh hmmm* yours truly.

While the title represents a sense of escape from captivity, the documentary aims to show that this escape is far from the utopic freedom that refugees have dreamt of from the confines of their ‘barbed wired’ world.

However, life beyond the barbed wire poses a whole new set of problems. In Malaysia, they are constantly persecuted and treated as criminals, thieves, crooks, and evil monsters here to do harm. Refugees are thoughtlessly deported back into the original misery. As Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention of human rights, just treatment of asylum seekers is a dream.

Stories of torture and murder at government detention centres pop up when ever you speak to refugees. Those who have tried to make this issue public have been ostracised and persecuted with the claim that they have brought shame to Malaysia. But, the real shame lies in the governments lack of concern for human suffering. For what ever reasons, Malaysia does not go public about the current refugee situation.

Where do refugees in Malaysia come from?

Majority of the Refugees in West Malaysia come from Burma, and Acheh. Then there are the refugees from the island of ‘Indanar’ of Philippines, in east Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak - the land of orang-utans).

Burmese refugees arrive in West Malaysia via land routes though Thailand. They are usually smuggled across the border via links with various “agents”. The Achehnese refugees tend to come in via boat (but I am not entirely sure).

On arriving in Malaysia, they are persecuted under the immigration act, and are condemned as “illegal immigrants”, a term that’s frequently used to refer to refugees by local media. This stereotyping, leads for the mistreatment of a population who are already stateless and homeless.

While the documentary does not explore the various political domains, it focuses on the human aspect of a refugee. The documentary is designed to help the typical refugee break existing negatives perceptions of who refugees are. It tries to show Malaysians what it would feel like to be one?

This documentary is was successfully made due to the contributions from the following persons. Ai Ling the cinematographer, Nadine the producer, Tessa the assistant producer, Sangeeta the production assistant. And then, there are the non-technical team of supporters and reviewers. The most important are Katrina J, and May Kuen. It was a real pleasure directing and editing!

on site!

I am currently trying to find a place to host a copy of the movie. But until I do that, please write to for a copy. Bear in mind, that it is about 50MB in size!

Other resources

Human Rights Watch: about the role of UNHCR in Malaysia:

Human Rights Watch: article on refugees in Malaysia:

Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS): report on Acehnese refugees in Malaysia

Refugee International: article on Malaysian refugee:

ReliefWeb: article on Refugees in Malaysia:

Suram (Malaysian human rights group): article on Refugee issues in Malaysia:

Tenaganita: article to release refugees held inhumanly:

Tenaganita: article urging to ratify UN convention on Human rights:

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (Malaysia): Urging government to protect and not abuse refugees during “crackdown”:


mythsn_legends said...

An excellent, informational article about the refugees in Malaysia! ;)

Steph said...

A friend overheard a group of aussies who refer refugees as 'idiots' the other day when we were at the pool.

I think by doing that, they not just being ignorant, but also cease the opportunity to open their hearts and learn.

Edmund Kwok said...

Ai mate,

I could spare some 50MB to host the video for some time. :-)


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

This is so upsetting.


astrorat said...

Dear mythsn_legends,

i am sure you like the movie too ;)

Dear steph,

people are typically afraid of the "others" specially when they do not know who they are. That it is important that those who do know, actively educate those who don’t.

Dear Ed,

I might take you up on that ;)

Dear Dr. D,
Welcome back from your break :)
It is sad to see humanity sometimes treat 'other' people in ways that they themselves would not liked to be treated.