PEOPLE from Myanmar make up the largest population of refugees living in Malaysia. They are followed by Sri Lankans, Somalians, Iraqis and Afghans.

To commemorate World Refugee Day 2011 which took place on June 20, a World Refugee Day bazaar was held recently, organised by Amnesty International Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur Bar Council and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).

Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Nora Murat said the objective of the bazaar was to allow the refugees to interact with the Malaysian public.

“There has been a lot of negative perception towards refugees in general. They are now a part of our society.

Cultural exchange: (from right) Myanmar refugees Esther Muanlun, 13, Sarah Lian Ngaik Ciin, 14, Mary Niang Thawn, 15, and Mang Nuam Neal, 47, with their hand-made handicraft at the World Refugee Day Bazaar to commemorate World Refugee Day 2011 at the Bar Council auditorium in Kuala Lumpur.

“In other words, they add to our cultural diversity,” she said after attending the bazaar held at the Bar Council auditorium in Kuala Lumpur.

A photo exhibition, handicraft sales and activities for children were among the events that took place at the bazaar.

Visitors also had the opportunity to sign a petition for Malaysia to ratify the United Nations Refugee Convention.

“This is the first time that we are having such an event for the refugees. Rather than having a forum, we thought an informal and relaxed atmosphere would be more effective,” Nora said.

The UN had set the theme for this year’s World Refugee Day as “One Refugee without Hope is too Many”.

The Refugee Convention celebrated its 60th anniversary.

Since Malaysia has not yet ratified the UN Refugee Convention, asylum-seekers are often arrested and prosecuted as illegal immigrants. So far, 144 countries have ratified the convention.

As of Sept 30, 2010, there are 90,229 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

KL Bar Environmental and Humanities Committee chairperson Roger Chan called on the Government to allow refugees in Malaysia to be given work permits.

“Refugees have been given a bad rap. People should know that they are not here to be a burden to us or to steal our jobs. They are here because they are forced to leave their own countries due to social or political instability. If refugees are allowed to remain legally, they can be a source of migrant labour,” he said.

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