Malaysia has approximately 100,000 refugees from different nations living in squalid, impoverished urban homes.
SBS Learn
15 Jun 2015 - 3:29 PM  UPDATED 3 May 2016 - 9:52 AM

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Living in virtual self-imprisonment in Malaysia, the Chin people who have escaped violence and persecution in their homeland of Myanmar (formerly Burma) are the largest displaced population of refugees in the country.

The Chin people are a minority group whose main religion is Christianity. As Malaysia does not officially recognise the Chins as refugees, they are granted no civil liberties. Therefore the Chins have no formal legal status and so are unable to work legally or access proper medical facilities. 

In Malaysia, the Chins live in fear of being arrested, imprisoned and caned by immigration authorities or being returned to the homeland. For their safety, the Chins endure an enforced existence within their own small apartment homes- rarely venturing outside.

As the clip illustrates, these dilapidated apartments, typically house 50 men, women and children. Facilities are scarce- one toilet and shower is commonly all that is available. There are no beds, so people sleep on the floor. Food is basic and is served communally. The children never leave the apartment except to walk a block to their school of four rooms where 100 students are crammed in for learning.

Critically, life for the Chin people in Malaysia is a life in transit and insecurity. Their life in Malaysia can only be temporary as Malaysia does not give legal status to refugees or asylum seekers. They have no rights to work, education or health care. Some, but not all, gain access to the UNHCR and many are assessed and found to be refugees. The wait to be resettled in Australia or another country who has signed the Refugee Convention can take years, even decades. 




Task 1: Self-Imprisonment

The UNHCR monitors asylum seekers and refugees who they regard as ‘persons of concern’. The UNHCR classifies these people into three categories. The categories in the annual UNHCR report Global Trends include:

Refugees: individuals recognized under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees; its 1967 Protocol; the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa; those recognized in accordance with the UNHCR Statute; individuals granted complementary forms of protection; or, those enjoying “temporary protection”. The refugee population includes people in a refugee-like situation.

Asylum-seekers: individuals who have sought international protection and whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined. Those covered [by the UNHCR] refer to claimants whose individual applications were pending at the end of 2009, irrespective of when they may have been lodged.

Internally displaced persons: people or groups of individuals who have been forced to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural- or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an international border. 

a. With reference to the Chin people portrayed in the clip, assess which categories the Chin fall into. Explain why.

b. Like most Chin people living in Malaysia, the people depicted in this clip exist in a self-imposed type of prison. Describe the factors that have forced them into this type of existence?


Task 2: Urban Slums

Watch the clip carefully. In Malaysia, the Chin people live a life that is severely compromised by the conditions under which they live. The Australian participants are quite shocked to learn of the living conditions endured by the Chin people in the flat.

a. As if you are Raquel or Adam, write a fictitious email to a friend back in Australia. Include a comment on each of the following points:

Number of people
Number of rooms
Gender arrangements
Cooking and eating 
Sleeping arrangements
Wardrobe and storage
Bathroom and toilet
Washing and drying


Task 3: Ethnic Minorities

Around the world war and persecution drives people from their homes and forces them to flee for safety. Most commonly, the people affected by this persecution are ethnic minority groups. Typically, the ethnic minorities that have escaped their homeland live in temporary settlements in foreign countries – unable to go home and unable to move forward to a permanent better life. 

The UNHCR reports on the numbers of people refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world:

At the end of 2009, some 43.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. This included 15.2 million refugees,27.1 million IDPs and close to one million individuals whose asylum application had not yet been adjudicated by the end of the reporting period.

The total number of refugees and IDPs under UNHCR’s care remained high, standing at 26 million by end-year. While the number of refugees remained relatively stable at 10.4 million, the number of IDPs protected or assisted by UNHCR rose to an unprecedented 15.6 million.

a. Explain how the Australian process of re-settling refugees may be impacting on the number of people who are waiting to learn about their future.

b. Given the high numbers of refugees, asylum seekers and IDPs in the world, what is your considered opinion of how to help refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons re-settle into a permanent home and start a new life?


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Reference: The Ipsos Mackay Report

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