In this last blog of an incredible experience at MSRI, I look at one of the sub-population of MSRI beneficiaries – Unaccompanied and separated children (UASC). I discuss some of the challenges these children face and I look at the UNHCR guidelines for determining the best interest of the child.
In this blog post I briefly discuss the work of Foucault and Agamben, two of my favourite theorists, on biopolitics. They explore the relation between human life and political power, and discuss how a sovereign’s power enables the killing of those perceived to be a threat to the overall population. This power often leads to discrimination and to the justification of brutal acts. Then, I briefly discuss one of my roles at MSRI and some of my views on qualitative and quantitative studies. Lastly, I end this post by sharing a few findings on topics I have had personal discussions on, such as the relation between migration and the spread of communicable diseases.
In this final section of my interview with Jeanne Makinadjian, I ask Jeanne how UNHCR supports UNHCR appointment cardholders and UNHCR asylum seeker and refugee cardholders who are in detention. Jeanne explains the important role UNHCR plays in releasing individuals from detention and how the new UNHCR card offers higher protection.
In this second section, Jeanne Makinadjian explains the resettlement process and how resettlement countries, such as USA, implement their own refugee status determination, security and medical checks. We discuss the long process of being granted refugee status and that only a small proportion of the refugee population is resettled. The process of seeking asylum and the resettlement process often take a few years and individuals go through rigorous screening. Furthermore, Jeanne explains how important the referral system is in speeding up cases and identifying vulnerabilities.
In this three-part podcast I am interviewing Jeanne Makinadjian, the legal advisor at the Malaysian Social Research Institute, on how MSRI works as partners with UNHCR, as well as, her role at MSRI in assisting individuals to prepare for their UNHCR interviews and with writing appeals, when necessary. Jeanne briefly discusses the difference between migration law and international humanitarian law, and also defines for us the terms migrant worker, asylum seeker and refugee. Jeanne’s key role at MSRI is to interview displaced individuals in order to complete vulnerability assessment reports and make case referrals to UNHCR. She also helps individuals prepare for the refugee status determination (RSD) interview, which is a long and often overwhelming process.
In this final section of my interview with Gloria Martinez, Gloria discusses the complexities of reporting a perpetrator, especially in an asylum and refugee context. She also explains how the course of action varies from one case to another and the possible drawbacks a legal case can have for refugees.
I feel very fortunate to be learning about a topic that is not only important in the work I am currently doing but also for any future engagements in my personal and professional life. I have been learning to go past my good intentions, of how I think my actions may benefit someone, and to explore the actual effect they have on individuals. The environment and experiences children are exposed to, shape them and it is thus critical to pay attention to the long-term impact of our actions rather than short-term benefits.
In this second section, Gloria Martinez talks about the UN convention on the rights of the child, which articulates the rights of children and recognizes their agency and evolving capacities. She explains what it means when countries, such as Malaysia, entered reservations on articles of the convention when they ratified it. This podcast ends with a discussion on the child protection policy introduced at MSRI and the training that has begun to take place.
In this three-part podcast I am interviewing Gloria Martinez, the senior program manager at the Malaysian Social Research Institute, on child protection policies and children’s rights. Gloria introduced a child protection policy at MSRI and has organized workshops and training for staff that I have been fortunate to attend. Over the past couple of months, I have been learning and growing in so many ways. How to safeguard children’s wellbeing and how to be mindful of the long-term impact our actions have on young individuals, are a big part of my learning experience.
In the first section, Gloria explains why a protection policy is necessary when working with children. She discusses the importance of having structures in place for minimizing risks and ensuring that programs and activities have a positive long-term impact on young individuals.
In this podcast I am interviewing Gloria Martinez, the senior program manager at the Malaysian Social Research Institute, on child protection policies and children’s rights. Gloria introduced a child protection policy at MSRI and has organized workshops and training for staff that I have been fortunate to attend. Over the past couple of months, I have been learning and growing in so many ways. How to safeguard children’s wellbeing and how to be mindful of the long-term impact our actions have on young individuals, are a big part of my learning experience.
International Instruments Protecting Refugees’ Rights
The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, treaties in international law, are key instruments outlining the rights of refugees, as well as the obligations of member-states in realizing these rights and protecting displaced people. Up to date, 148 nation states have signed one or both of these documents, while numerous nations have yet to ratify them. First, I briefly discuss what it means to be a member-state of the convention. Then, I look at the Malaysian context and how the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operates in the country.
Signing the convention mentioned above is to accept the UN definition of a refugee: “Someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”. Member-states are required to safeguard that such individuals are protected and not sent back to their country of origin where they face persecution and serious threats to their lives and rights. Moreover, signatory states are expected to work with UNHCR and to not penalize individuals seeking asylum for committing migration offences. Furthermore, members-states are obliged to provide basic services for refugees, such as ensuring that they have access to the legal system, to primary education, formal employment, and to health care facilities.
Being a Refugee in Malaysia and UNHCR in the Malaysian Context
Malaysia has not signed neither the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocol, which means that it is not obliged to provide protection and support for refugees, and in fact, to even recognize their refugee status. It would be beneficial for the country to improve its legal framework to address the needs and ensure the realization of the rights of refugees. Currently, refugees can be treated as undocumented migrants, which puts them at risk of being charged for immigration offences and thus, of facing imprisonment, detention or deportation. Refugees do not have access to formal employment, although many do work informally, nor do they have access to formal education. Many do, however, send their kids to school, such as to the school program offered by the Malaysian Social Research Institute, where I am interning, which provides primary and secondary education to refugee children. Displaced people have access to health care facilities, but without a UNHCR card they are at risk of being reported to the police by health care personnel, which is very common. Even those who do hold a UNHCR card have reported threats, harassment and/or abuse by police officials. A UN refugee card also provides a 50% discount for health care services. However, many still find it difficult to access these services, as the fees are often unaffordable and because of language barriers. Asylum seekers, who are waiting for their cases to be processed at UNHCR, do not get the 50% discount. The UNHCR has recently decided to issue one type of identity card to both asylum seekers and registered refugees in order for everyone to receive the 50% discount. However, a number of political figures are opposing this change.
The UNHCR began operations in Malaysia in 1975 when Vietnamese refugees were seeking asylum. For the following two decades, UNHCR supported the Malaysian government to resettle Vietnamese refugees in various countries and to also repatriate many when it was safe to do so. Although Malaysia may not be a member-state, it has been cooperating with the refugee agency to address the needs of asylum seekers in hope of resettling them since UNHCR’s first operations in the country. UNHCR works closely with government organizations, with NGOs and civil society organizations to support displaced people. The Malaysian government sees the country as a transition point and pushes for the resettlement of refugees, as leaders have stated that they are not able to provide long-term support for displaced people. Since there are thousands of individuals and families entering the country to seek asylum, Malaysia continues to allow UNHCR to operate but this could change at any moment because it is not a member-state. The government could decide to close down the Refugee Agency’s offices, just like the Thai government forced UNHCR to suspend services to Myanmese/Burmese asylum seekers in 2004 for a few months. This poses a risk for the agency and the many individuals it serves, which is why organizations and civil society are advocating for the Malaysian government to sign the convention and expand its support of refugees.
Here is the link where you could read the 1951 Refugee Convention and find more information about the UNHCR http://www.unhcr.org/1951-refugee-convention.html