Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Syrians in Malaysia

The number of Syrian refugees is on the rise. Reports about Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries abound, but until today I was not aware that refugees from Syria are also arriving in Malaysia. The number of arrivals from Syria is not clear; UNHCR-Malaysia does not mention them on their website. And yet local NGOs are beginning to serve people fleeing the escalating conflict and violence in Syria.

Over the last three months about 60 families from Syria have registered at the Sahabat Support Centre (SSC), a project of the Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI). One third of those families are Syrian, almost a third are Palestinian, and another third are Iraqis. Like all other of the roughly 100,000 refugees in Malaysia, they are not entitled to any support from UNHCR until their refugee status has been determined and recognized. Given the current backlog, service providers estimate that the newly arrived refugees might need to wait a year or two for their first instance interview, which is ironic since some of the Iraqis have been approved for resettlement by UNHCR-Damascus. We have learnt of one family who was to travel to the United States within a month. However, their dwellings in Damascus were bombed, they feared for they lives, and fled to Kuala Lumpur. They were told by UNHCR that they would have to begin the whole process anew!

The refugees and service providers are frustrated as they cannot understand why UNHCR-Malaysia does not honor decisions made by their colleagues in Damascus. The family in question brought with them all of their documentation, but somehow this was not enough…

A blog set up by Syrian expats in Malaysia suggests that refugees from Syria arrive daily in Kuala Lumpur. They can get a 90-day visa on arrival which provides a relatively easy access to the country. Islam is a dominant religion in Malaysia which is not without importance either….

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Arrived in Kuala Lumpur

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur safely. My first impressions of the city are very positive: big, modern, and clean city with a great diversity of peoples, cultures, and cuisines. My hotel serves several types of breakfasts: continental, American, Malay, Indian, and Chinese reflecting the backgrounds of the hotel guests and locals. The staff is equally diverse, including Burmese and Sri Lankan refugees. Malaysia is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention and refugees do not have the right to work. They do work, however, illegally and for very little money; less than $200 a month. Reportedly their working conditions border on forced labor.

I have reunited with my research partner, Avie, a Georgetown alumna and my former student. We have not seen each other since her graduation from a master’s program in the School of Foreign service in 2008, but did not lack things to talk about, including Avie’s plans to get a Ph.D. in anthropology!

Tomorrow we will be training seven refugee research assistants in research ethics, informed consent and confidentiality issues as well as ethnographic interviews. I usually include some discussion of the historical antecedents of current research ethics requirements in my training. I wonder whether discussions of the Nuremberg Code of 1947 and the Belmont Report of 1979 can be conveyed not only cross-culturally but also generationally.

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On my way to Kuala Lumpur

I leave for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia later today to study urban refugees’ access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods. This project continues ISIM’s engagement with research on urban refugees in Cairo, Amman, Beirut, Irbid, Mafraq, Ramtha and Tripoli. I am looking forward to this fieldwork and to a reunion with Avie Azis, who graduated from Georgetown with an MSFS in International Relations in 2008. Stay tuned for our notes from the field.

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