No child should live in limbo

Bermulanya di sini,
Aku hidup sendiri,
Tidak punya keluarga dan kawan,
Di lorong-lorong ini aku tinggal di sini,
Aku ada impian yang aku kejar.

(Here is the beginning,
I live by myself,
No family or friends,
Living in this alley,
I have a dream to chase.)

The above is part of the lyrics from a song by refugee and undocumented children who are under the homeschooling programme in Yayasan Chow Kit (YCK) KL Krash Pad.

People always say, a song can tell a story. It is true.

The song was written as part of an audiovisual project featuring 16 refugee and undocumented children. The core of the project is a photography exhibition of life as seen through the eyes of these children.

I first came to know about this project from my colleague,  Kamal Solhami Fadzil.

With an aim to increase awareness on the plight of these children and as an effort on advocacy, this exhibition is a collaboration between YCK and Universiti Malaya (UM), and is supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The works of these children are currently exhibited in the Art Gallery, located in the UM Chancellery. The exhibition, entitled Kuala Lumpur Kit Je!, ends on March 26.

What really touched my heart were these children's exhibited essays. Most of them highlighted their lives as undocumented children and how much they fear being caught by the police. However, their eagerness in accessing education is really inspiring.

In the brochure, several stories by these children are highlighted. One of them is by Ardian, 14, who does not possess the complete documentation. He reflects on how much he wants to be a Malaysian.

“I am happy being a child in Malaysia. Sadly, I am not able to be a citizen even though I was born here. I like and am proud of the culture and political stability that exists here.

"My siblings and I often feel we are part of the Malaysian culture, especially during their open houses, just like other Malaysians... unfortunately, as an undocumented and refugee child, our similarities with other Malaysian children is not recognised. This denies us the chance to prove what we are capable of and our abilities. This is demotivating and denies us our voices.”

Imagine this, Ardian isn’t allowed to attend public school. He isn’t allowed to work. He has no access to healthcare. He isn’t eligible for any benefits, and all because he has no ID.

What is it like to grow up as an undocumented child in Malaysia? It is hard to imagine.

Their essays reveal that they just want to lead a normal life like other children, to be able to walk freely, to be able to make friends with anyone, and to be able to go school and take part in any activities without needing to worry about getting arrested or harassed.

These essays also reveal that they face discrimination in the eyes of the public. They need to deal with isolation from peers, the struggle to pursue an education, fears of detention and deportation, and the trauma of separation from family.

What makes it worse is their anxiety in finding jobs when they grow up, as they do not have complete documentation.

In short, their future is bleak.

For some who are born in Malaysia, just like any other children, they feel strongly as a Malaysian. But when they find out they are not, it can be completely devastating to them.

Some of you might ask, "why should we care about them?" They are not our problem.

Well, the answer is that we should care simply because any child in our society should not experience the discrimination, isolation and fear that these children go through. No child should go through such a traumatic experience.

Undocumented children are the most voiceless of all. Officially, they are invisible. Their problems are not new and have been highlighted many times. Unfortunately, there is no solution to tackle this problem.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that was just completed in 2015 basically ignored the migrants and refugees.

With the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) spanning from 2016-2030 under the tagline, “leave no one behind”, I sincerely hope that these children would be finally recognised and taken into consideration to achieve the full package of rights and opportunities as transpired in the SDGs. – March 14, 2016.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.


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