Monash University in Kuala Lumpur hosted a public forum in honour of World Humanitarian Day on 19th August, titled “Capacity Building for Refugees: The Way Forward”.

Hosting a forum on the topic of refugees sends an important message from the university to the community. Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which means refugees have the same rights, or lack of rights, as illegal immigrants. They cannot work, attend public school or access the same rights as a citizen. For a university to organise a public forum such as this is an indication that relevant institutions are willing to take the next steps for this situation to change.

The topic of change was the main highlight of the forum, along with the importance of work rights and the right for refugees to study in Malaysia. A recent study by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs looks at the positive impact that refugees with work rights would have on the economy in terms of tax implications. This is important data and supports the notion that refugees are a positive contribution to their host community.

Keynote speaker Thomas Albrecht, Country Representative of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Malaysia, says that while this is already acknowledged by many organisations and institutions, the next step is to get the message across to the government.

But students with refugee status cannot wait around for that. While everyone agrees advocation is key, we need to come up with a model for refugees to be able to pursue their studies.

“One of the interesting ideas was the possibilities of blended learning, which is blending online and offline studying,” explained Marleen Roozen, our CandleLighter volunteer in Kuala Lumpur, who attended the forum.

“Since refugees cannot officially register at universities in Malaysia, they cannot take part in exams and thus cannot receive a diploma. A model to pilot would be to register at a university abroad, but then be able to access onsite support at a Malaysian university. They can take exams online with their registered universities, which then allows them the opportunity to get a diploma.”

There are many more ways of the online/offline model to be explored, while representatives of multiple universities are pursuing advocacy and lobbying for change.

Marleen currently works with refugees in empowerment alongside local NGO Fugee.org in Malaysia. For more information on CandleLighters or how you can contribute towards the CandleLighters volunteer programme, please visit our blog.