According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 178,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia as of January 2021, with thousands more still not accounted for.
Most of them come from parts of the world plagued by civil war, natural disasters, religious persecution, and so on. However, the narrative painted around these people is often negative, with some host countries viewing them as parasites or burdens of society.
Common stereotypes such as “They are stealing our jobs!” and “They are dangerous!” are rife among the Malaysian community, and it doesn’t help when children are frightened into viewing refugees as menacing figures when they’re told by their parents that “the Bangla will take you away if you’re naughty!”
Having the opportunity to work with refugees since the beginning of the year allowed Wen Yi to take a closer look at them and realise that things needed to change.
Thus, she gathered a group of her friends to embark on this ‘Borderless’ journey.
Who is the team behind Borderless?
The team consists of passionate young adults in their early and mid-twenties. Some of them are working while others are still in the midst of completing their tertiary education.
“It’s never easy to get everyone together as we all have our own commitments, but we’re trying our best to go along with the flow and work on planned programmes and initiatives,” said Wen Yi.
The refugees they have been serving are from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Once they have more resources, they are hoping to expand their programme to include those from Pakistan and Myanmar.
“The refugees in Malaysia have always lived as a marginalised community and struggled to obtain basic necessities, work opportunities, and a proper education due to discrimination and prejudice from the locals,” Wen Yi added.
They had unwillingly escaped out of their home countries in hopes of finding peace and safety in Malaysia. Unfortunately, the reality is often disappointing when they arrive in a country full of discrimination.
These issues are what ignited Wen Yi’s passion in establishing “Borderless”, with a vision to offer help and empowerment to refugees to survive and thrive in Malaysia.
Wen Yi and the team aims to help refugees who have limited access to basic human rights such as education, healthcare services, etc.
Firstly, aside from providing health education, they wish to overcome challenges refugees will face when receiving healthcare services. Refugees in Malaysia barely have access to essential healthcare services due to language barriers, social discrimination, and lack of protection by law.
“Hence, we hope that we can help by providing basic healthcare information and health screenings. Additionally, we would also facilitate referrals to other NGOs and appropriate health services.”
Next, for the mental health and psychosocial aspect, Team Borderless have hosted support groups, counselling services as well as mental health-related activities. The goal of these initiatives is to raise mental health awareness and provide support.
“It is essential to care for their mental health as refugees are prone to develop conditions that might impact their social and financial well-being after facing traumatic experiences in their home countries that progressively worsens thereafter due to the stress of living in Malaysia.”
Lastly, Borderless seeks to empower refugees by imparting skills that will help them become more self-sufficient.
The team is looking into conducting educational workshops for disciplines such as photography, baking, sewing, etc.
Their work does not stop there as the team aims to provide the refugees with platforms to showcase their skills and make a living to financially support their families, instead of relying on others.
“We believe that this is a good way to help them increase their self-esteem, confidence and subsequently improve their mental health.”
Making refugees’ lives better
Several programmes that Borderless has successfully carried out are COVID-19 educational workshops, distribution of care packages, and basic health screening.
The COVID-19 educational workshops were primarily targeted to young adults to learn more about COVID-19 and its preventive measures as well as clearing any reservations and doubts they have about vaccination.
“The care packages that we distributed included alcohol hand rubs, masks and sanitiser sprays. We gave them to families who cannot afford these items. We strongly believe that everyone should have equal access to simple hygiene products to protect themselves during the pandemic.”
During the health screenings, their healthcare team checked the refugees’ blood sugar levels, oxygen saturation, blood pressures, and looked into other possible health concerns.
“In collaboration with refugee schools, we are in the midst of planning mental health camps for the youths.”
According to Wen Yi, the refugees were thankful and appreciative for the team’s efforts so far.
“Through our initiatives and the combined efforts of other NGOs, we hope to make their lives better.”
‘Take off your coloured glasses’
“It was never about one’s nationality. Even locals can cause social issues. Having a different cultural background and origin doesn’t make us superior.”
Therefore, locals who have the time should give themselves a chance to get first-hand experience with the refugees by volunteering in NGO initiatives.
“It will definitely change their perception of this community,” assured Wen Yi.
People should never make assumptions against others regardless of race, religion or cultural background.
“I hope that the public can be more understanding towards refugees and open to learning about their culture so that we can live together in harmony.”
Stay tuned to Borderless’s Instagram for more upcoming projects.
Cover image via Borderless
Editor: Sarah Yeoh