My previous blog posts have been a relatively narrow, and almost simplified, discussion of the status of illegality that an individual might be subjected to. In this, I have critiqued the national and international systems in place that work against individuals who are displaced or seeking refuge, and inhibit them from accessing certain rights, freedoms, and opportunities. Sidelined in my own discussion, though, are the ways that people are actively working against this system.  

On the one hand, the fact that I’ve neglected this aspect doesn’t really make sense to me. The simultaneous confrontation of, and effort to work through, the system is such a core aspect of the Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI), it should have been an obvious point to raise. At the same time, it makes me realize the extreme naivety I had (still have, only maybe a bit less extreme) at the beginning of this internship. At the beginning, I was still in a state of processing how and why human rights were not being afforded to certain individuals, those deemed “illegal.” And, although there’s still endless information to be processed and learned day to day, I’m starting to catch up with MSRI’s pace. The institute is not only recognizing the infringements on basic rights that are occurring, but they are responding to them. MSRI has an ongoing developing role as an active advocator and channel for human empowerment for those who have been categorized as illegal within Malaysia.

MSRI has an incredible and dynamic grass-roots approach to supporting refugee and migrant communities in Kuala Lumpur. It is an organization focused on directly addressing the issues that affect its clients, those who have been displaced from their country of origin and cannot properly access rights. MSRI, those who contribute to it and take part in its programs, create a cooperative and empowering structure. Its foundation is grounded in the incorporation of each stakeholder in the most individually fitting way possible. In particular, this occurs through a project of MSRI, the Sahabat Support Center (SSC).  Despite its role as a support center, it is simultaneously supported by its clients who act as volunteers in the services MSRI tries to offer. Teachers, translators, nurses, each displaced from their own country, and working to enable others to access services that may not be accessible otherwise. At the same time part of this team includes the local, and foreign, “legal” individuals organizing, and administering to fit the various pieces together. Each individual, no matter the state-deemed title of legality, plays a unique and important role, making it possible for each other individual to simultaneously play their own role.

Through this system on cooperative support, MSRI has created a unique community within diversity. Something that should not be as unique as it is, yet demonstrates the institute’s progressive approach to human interaction and cooperative support. As a prominent aspect of this diverse community, language plays a massive role in these interactions. Language, and the ability to take part in this form of self-expression is one central method of individual empowerment. Being able to speak and be understood eases the process of addressing your own needs. At MSRI, this form of self-expression is encouraged through its systems of interpreters, and language training. In the clinic, translators and nurses, both legal and illegal, enable others to access physical, and mental healthcare. In the hopes that families will be resettled, and since both Malaysia and resettlement countries speak English, the primary and secondary school programs focus on English language development. English classes are also available for adults. In addition, programs for economic empowerment are facilitated and supported by the SSC and MSRI structures. This includes cooking and vocational training, such as craft-making. These crafts are sold and 100% of the profit returns to the specific person who created the craft.

As the programs, and numbers of those involved, expand, cooperative growth is a necessity to maintain functionality of the supportive system created within MSRI and SSC. A positive feedback loop is established, more individuals seek support, and therefore more individuals can offer support. As people join, they bring along their unique experience and ability to be incorporated into the system, modifying its functionality along the way. As an organization MSRI is still working to establish a more rigid and fixed structure. At the same time, its fluidity is a strength that allows adaptability to variables, opportunities, and numbers. This freedom of evolution, particularly as a contrast to the strict, and limited systems of state structures (i.e. of human legality), continues to create and recreate the structure of MSRI and SSC. It demonstrates the importance, and the ability, of humans themselves to adapt. In its many projects, the institute attempts to provide a structure that this adaptation and human ability can grow through, addressing limitations, and cooperatively creating opportunities.