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Planning Meeting with UNHCR

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By Liam Hanlon

Voice of the Children participated in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) annual planning meeting regarding educational opportunities for refugee children in Malaysia. This consultation, comprising of stakeholders from civil society, schools, and the Ministry of Education, provided an opportunity for interactive discussion aimed at assisting refugee children attain a quality education. Over 18,000 refugee children are here in Malaysia, and 50 percent of them are not registered in schools.

Most of the participants represented primary schools for refugee children throughout Malaysia, with a few schools also taking in secondary school students. One of the most inspiring organizations in attendance was the New Generation Learning Center, a school in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur taught by Myanmar refugees for Myanmar refugee children.

While the UNHCR prepared some slides for their presentation, much of the time was left open for discussion on the most pressing needs of these communities. Some mentioned the difficulty of sustaining quality teachers without adequate compensation, as well as the lack of resources to properly train the teachers. Some expressed frustration over their inability to obtain up to date lesson plans and school materials, thus debilitating the overall school curriculum.

Others highlighted frequent security risks for their students, describing the government’s inability to ensure safety for children travelling to and from school. Further concerns were raised around the lack of community involvement and awareness, citing the stigma many of their students face from local Malaysian communities. It is troubling, noted one participant, when people cannot distinguish between refugees, migrant workers, and migrant workers who have overstayed their visas, and the very different reasons for their move to Malaysia.

Unfortunately, most of these schools lack the resources and capacity to bring the difficulties faced by refugee children into the public sphere. The schools are already overstretched in their responsibilities to the students and in trying to maintain functioning schools. For them, the daily tasks necessary to guarantee quality, secure and accessible education for refugee children are overwhelming enough.

However, VoC can fill this gap and highlight these issues in both the public and private sectors. VoC was founded on the precept that every child in Malaysia should be fully protected and afforded all the rights enshrined in the CRC, not simply every Malaysian child.

As an advocacy organization, VoC campaigns to raise awareness about children who are most at-risk, and ensure their voices are heard. VoC is fully committed to making sure the plight of refugee children in Malaysia does not go unnoticed, and championing their struggle for a quality and safe education.

Thus, VoC’s role in this meeting was to listen carefully. Listen to the people on the ground, dealing with these problems everyday. Listen to the seemingly basic necessities absent in these schools. Listen to these teachers and school officials. Essentially, listen to the children.

Ultimately, VoC left having made a number of new connections with refugee schools, establishing critical lines of communication for future partnerships and campaigns regarding refugee children. Please stay tuned for developments!

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