|Kuala Lumpur — Mon refugees celebrated the World Refugee Day in Malaysian’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, on June 18-19, 2011, organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Nai Sahai Mon, the Vice-Chairman of the Mon Refugee Organization (MRO), who assists refugees and migrants, told Kaowao that the event was organized by the UNHCR to raise not only funds and awareness about the plight of refugees, but to sign up volunteers for job skills training and teaching.
“The UNHCR helped with setting up several show-rooms and provided space for fund-raising shops managed by the refugee communities who sold their wares to the public,” says Nai Sahai.
Over the 2-day celebration, the Mons performed the Mon Solo Dance, followed by a popular New Year Water Festival Dance, the Alphabet and the Courtship (Wooing) Dances. The Mon Solo Dance was created by a Mon artist who sang about the beginning of time when the earth was first formed. According to a Mon dance teacher, Nai Min, the dance is a Brahmism creation myth when the world came into being with only one human race on planet Earth. According to oral tradition and the Mons ancestors, human beings came down from the Brahma Celestial regions and later migrated to different territories and evolved into different nationalities or ethnic groups.
With Burma being so close geographically to Malaysia, Burmese migrants make up the bulk of the refugees at roughly 92 percent. Other refugee groups hail from Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nai Sahai estimates that there are approximately 40,000 Mon in Malaysia, half of whom are refugees, the other group are migrant workers. Of those 20,000 refugees, only 3,800 are registered with the UNHCR office with another 14,500 seeking registration. The Mons leave Burma due to human rights violations, economic hardship, and repression under the Burmese government.
Since Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on treatment of refugees, those fleeing abuses from their home countries are often stuck in limbo with no status or human rights. Refugees, as well as illegal migrants, have no access to healthcare, education, or legal representation. Thus, the MRO steps in to assist the Mons applying for refugee status at the UNHCR office and helps Mon refugees who need medical treatment, clothing, and shelter.
Having no legal status, refugees, and both legal and illegal migrants, are given little public sympathy and government support in Malaysia. Refugees are forbidden to work legally and they and their children have no access to public healthcare and education. Despite having documentation, refugee and migrant families fear late night searches by the Malaysian authorities who round vulnerable people for deportation to the border area or other locations where they fall into traps and are sometimes handed over by unscrupulous individuals to criminal groups for exploitation.
“They look down on us . . . they don’t see us as human beings, they see refugees as criminals,” said Mi Tanda Htun, founder of Mon Women Refugee Malaysia (Melissa Goh from Asia Pacific News, June 20, 2011).
Without a secure environment and strong economy back home, Burmese migrants and refugees will continue to leave their country in large numbers in order to seek a better life abroad. Political observers in Mon State are doubtful that any serious political change will come about under the newly elected civilian government that is led by the USDA, a military backed organization, which was voted into power in Burma’s first General Election in twenty years on November 7, 2010.