Wednesday, 23 June 2010

World Refugee Day Celebrations in KL Sentral

The global theme for World Refugee Day 2010 (which falls on June 20th) is "Home", which expresses the hope that refugees will either be able to safely return to their countries of origin, or rebuild their lives in new countries.

It was with the objective of creating public awareness on the plight of refugees and of celebrating the strength and resilience of refugees that UNHCR Malaysia marked World Refugee Day 2010 with a massive outreach event in KL Sentral, Southeast Asia's largest public transport infrastructure, over the past weekend. Our celebrations included rousing cultural performances, interactive exhibitions and a refugee bazaar to raise funds for refugee communities.

The event was successful beyond our wildest dreams and drew an enormous crowd on both days. We had many interested members of the public signing up to be volunteers, and the booths at the bazaar enjoyed brisk sales.

My colleagues and I were on duty on Friday night to help set up the booths and exhibition panels. It was more tiring than I had expected, because I was still on medication following oral surgery the previous week.

Come sign up at our booth to be a UNHCR Volunteer!

Our little refugee bazaar, offering everything from buns and cakes to shawls and costume jewellery, in an effort to help refugee communities, especially women, be financially independent.

Our refugee bazaar was also a good way of helping refugees network with potential customers.


What does it feel like to live as a refugee, away from home? To escape to an unfamiliar land, with nothing but the clothes on your back?

You don't speak the language, but somehow must provide for your family.

You live cramped in a small room with 40 others, and keep alive the hope that someday you will return home.

"We don't want charity. Just give us the chance to work and to be independent."

There are no 'refugee camps' in Malaysia, only Immigration Detention Centres.

Most refugees in Malaysia live in small, cramped flats or houses in cities. They are almost invisible in the cities they live in, living quietly side-by-side with Malaysians.

Due to displacement and trauma, many refugee children are denied a normal childhood and the right to play. In the indoor courtyard of a flat, refugee chilldren steal some precious play time.

This man rents a tiny room in a flat with 8 other men because it is all he can afford. Within the confines of this small space, the men conduct their daily activities of sleeping, praying, eating and even cooking.

Refugees wait at a free clinic run by UNHCR and an NGO in order to get treatment. The health needs of refugees are often neglected due to the cost of medication and treatment. These free and low-cost clinics help make healthcare more accessible for refugees.

Like many refugees, this hospitalised patient worked at a construction site. In an accident, he fell 13 floors and escaped near death. The steep hospital fees became a great burden to him due to his meagre wages.


Choose your own adventure, UNHCR-style!

Enter our maze and walk a mile in a refugee's shoes:
What's it like to be a refugee?
To witness your family torn apart by war and conflict?
To lose everything you value -- family, friends, your home -- and be forced to flee in order to save your life?
To travel hundreds of miles, on foot through dense jungles, into a strange land.
It's difficult to imagine this journey and the life-changing decisions that must be made, often with little time to prepare.

Soldiers are coming to your village within an hour. They've threatened your life before. This time, you won't be able to buy them off with cigarettes. You've got nothing left. Nothing but your aged parents who urge you to run.


You plead for mercy. They show none. They pillage your home. They take away everything of value. Worse still, you are taken away. You may never return. Your life, as you know it, is over.

Many who flee war and complex human rights situations may never find the safety and protection they need.

Their journeys are very much like what you have read in this exhibition today. They need your support. Help them rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Visit to learn more.


You hardly have time to pack. Just a lighter. 3 shirts. The pants you're wearing. That's it. No food or water. You trek through the foliage for 4 hours. You stumble and injure yourself. But you have escaped a certain death in the village. You come to a road. At last. A way out. You hear the hum of a car approaching.


You wander in the jungle for 2 days, until you pass out from dehydration. You didn't make it. Your journey as a refugee ends here.


He gives you a ride to the nearest town. After 2 hours, you arrive at the town bus stop. You need to find someone to help you leave the country. You can't go back home. It's probably ransacked or burned to the ground. You can't stay in the town. The troops will find you. They will kill you for running away.


At the border, you realise you have no passport. Soldiers handcuff you and send you away on a truck, to where you came from. You are thrown into jail, indefinitely. Your journey as a refugee ends here.


You give him all your money. He's got a car. But you don't get a seat. You are asked to lie in the trunk with 3 others. You pass out many times along the way. You almost suffocate. But you survive the 10 hours of hell. You pass the border. You've made your way out of the country.

What happens now? You have no money. No friends. No future. In a very real sense, your journey as a refugee has just begun.


A very macho and rousing dance by the Rakhine community of Myanmar to show loyalty to their King.

Children from the Mon community of Myanmar performing a traditional dance in absolutely regal-looking costumes.

A very colourful music and dance troupe by the Mon community of Myanmar.

What a spectacular costume! A dancer of Shan ethnicity performs the Peacock Dance.

Lovely ladies from Shan State performing a New Year song-and-dance number.

Young people from the Kachin (Myanmar) community performing the Myitkyina dance.

Adorable Kachin children performing a traditional dance.

Young people from the Chin community of Myanmar performing a dance to celebrate the birth of a baby boy.

The double standards practiced in most societies do confound me, I must admit.

Endearing little Afghan girls performing a demure little dance.

Afghan women performing a rather melancholic-sounding number. From the looks of it, I think it's a song about women's place being in the kitchen. The women stand around the pot, stirring, and clapping at the beat of one clap a minute or something excruciating like that.

Afghan boys performing a lively bhangra-like number, and dancing with each other. I was waiting for the womenfolk to join in but they never did. I guess the women were all stuck in the kitchen with that there big ol' pot, huh?

Young ladies from the Sri Lankan Tamil community performing an Indian classical dance.


Refugees may have lost their homes, but let them not lose hope for a better future! Find out how you can assist them:

Choose A Project:
Look for a Refugee Self-Help Project that interests you and make a difference with your time, skills, resources and purchasing power! Visit our Social Protection Fund Blog at and choose to make a difference in the lives of refugees!

Be Our Volunteer:
Contact the Social Protection Fund at 03 2141 1322 or to offer your skills and services.

Contributions In Kind:
Your donations of used but wearable clothes, travel bags, soap, household items and personal care products can help out those who are not yet able to help themselves. Refugees and asylum-seekers in Immigration Detention Camps, especially, have a need for clean clothes and hygiene products. Think you can help? Then drop me an email or give me a call before you drop by with your donations. I will help you get your donations to those who need it the most.


Unknown said...

UNHCR has marked a wonderful World Refugee Day 2010. The pictures tell so much. I wish I was there too. Glad the public reached out and responded well. Great enactment of the plight of the refugees too. Thanks for the awareness - we can do our bit to give the refugees hope.

mum said...

how terrifying it is to be in a refugee's shoes.

awesome post, covertop.

Cat-from-Sydney said...

You go girl! Despite your personal pain, it's heartfelt to see you still have the energy to help with the setting up and all. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts. We love you lots. MMMMWWWAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

Hugs and kisses,
Brad and Angelina

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Keats,
Yes, it was a wonderful celebration indeed, thank you! I wonder how we are going to top ourselves next year!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Mum-In-Malaysia,
How good of you to drop by! Thank you!
You are right, it is terrifying to be subjected to human rights abuses. Many victims never end up becoming refugees -- they don't have the opportunity to leave.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Kitties-In-Sydney,
A big MWAAAAAAAHH to your Mama too for helping persons of concern! I am not in very much pain anymore. If I don't think about it, it doesn't hurt. We had a great celebration and really enjoyed the performances.

Ellen Whyte said...

I love the little soaps and cat book marks you gave me. Will pass on to magazine editors too. Do you have a shop/outlet/web site?

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Ellen,
Glad you like the refugee crafts! The cat bookmarks actually came from a bookstore near my house, haha. The handmade brooch and fair trade soaps were made by refugee women. Some are listed in the SPF Blog:

I have a booklet on SPF projects and refugee community schools that I'll hand over to you soon so you can pass it to Ruth. She can teach in the kindergartens and Sunday schools. She'd like that, wouldn't she?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Just wanted to let you know that I had put this blog in my faves so I can keep up with you.
Jamisinc (Jami)

Cali said...

Hello, dear! I just wanted to let you know that I'm following you over here. I understand about how difficult DD has become. We are promised lots of improvements, but see few. :-( If that situation ever improves I will let you know.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Jami,
Thank you for dropping by! Let's keep in touch both by FB and via blog. I see your Mum -- Nina -- is on FB as well. Wow! I'm having a hard time convincing my parents to create their FB profile!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Cali,
Thanks so much for following me. FYI, I've friended Kendall on FB ;)
DD is such a pain to use these days and Bubbles' & Supertrooper's photos can't be viewed either, so I don't think it's only me. I'll still drop by your diary every time I can, ok? Take care!

Pat said...

Thank you for this informative post, E. I realise how hard it must be to decide to leave all that you know, and make your way to some place else - and all the time, never knowing if this new place will be any better.

It's especially sad to see the little children as refugees. I hope life works out all right for them.

I'm glad to hear you're doing better.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for your care and empathy, dear Pat! There are so many refugees in need of help, and so few countries willing to resettle them. I wish people would stop behaving as though the refugees are going to Canada as part of a pleasure junket -- trust me, if they had a choice, they just want to go home to their little farms and sunny villages. But they can't go home, you see. They're not economic migrants. They're not leaving home just to seek a better life for their families. They HAVE to leave because they could die if they stayed. We've never had to go to makeshift morgues to identify our parents' bodies. We've never had to watch our siblings or friends shot in front of us. We've never been herded into army trucks for forced military conscription when we walk out of our school gates. We can only imagine the trials they've been through.

louis said...

The same people who push hard for globalization of ideas. finance and business tend to be those who do everything possible to thwart the ultimate aspect of globalization, the globalization of people, the free movement of people across the globe.

I acknowledge that it is utopian to have no immigration controls, but it is paradoxical that while pressure is applied to nations to permit the free flow of capital and business, no matter how negative the social and economic consequences may be for those being pressured to accept such globalization, the efforts to keep people from selected nations or areas from moving freely has increased. There is sometimes a good reason for such controls, such as security considerations, but it is evident that often the motivation is not security but ignorance, prejudice, bigotry and racism.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Louis,
Truer words have never been uttered! In a globalized world, an organization such as the UNHCR should not even exist. Borders, boundaries and immigration laws are restrictions created by the fearful. They have no place in a Brave New World. Most countries cite security considerations and depletion of natural resources (e.g. fresh water) as justifications for tightening immigration laws, but their fears are mostly unfounded.