KUALA LUMPUR, 13 July 2005 - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today unveiled a photography installation depicting images and stories of refugees in Malaysia and their determination to survive against all odds. For the first time, a human face is put to the refugee statistics in the country.
This was officially unveiled by His Royal Highness The Regent of Perak, Dr Raja Nazrin ShahIbni Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center in Sentul. The exhibition will run from 14 July till 7 August and is open to the public.
UNHCR through this project, attempts to capture the stories of courage, strength and hope in the faces of refugees in Malaysia through stark and visually arresting black and white photographs.
Malaysian photographer Bernice Chauly was commissioned to take the photographs. Over the course of three months, UNHCR and Ms Chauly visited hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers at their homes in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor to capture their images and stories.
The snippets of their life stories provide insights into the horrors that they fled from, their will to survive in a new land and their hope for rebuilding their lives.
UNHCR perceives that to appreciate the poignancy and reality of these images is to better understand the serious social issues affecting this community; among them struggling to eke a basic living in a new land; dealing with the emotional trauma of flight and losing everything; facing the fear and uncertainty of an unknown future and confronting the damaging myths and misconceptions, discrimination and apathy from local communities.
According to UNHCR head Dr Volker Türk, it is important to dispel the damaging myths about refugees as these myths hinder people from opening their hearts to help refugees, and instead show the reality of their lives.
"One of the misconceptions about refugees is that they are migrants," said Dr Türk. "This is not true, because unlike migrants, refugees do not flee their country for better material improvements and they do not enjoy the protection of their Government. Refugees cannot return home.
"People believe that refugees want to stay in the host country and be parasites," said Dr Türk. "This is not true as a refugees- most fervent wish is to return to his/her own country as soon as possible. However, this is not always possible due to the situation back home."
Dr Türk added that refugees were frequently viewed with distrust and regarded as criminals.
"Refugees are afraid of committing crimes in a host country because they do not want to be sent back," Dr Türk. "If you speak with a refugee, you will understand better that they are no different than you and I.
"But the biggest difference is the courage they display. We are humbled by their experience, stunned by their creativity and resourcefulness, as well as deeply grateful for the courage they demonstrate."
As of end May 2005, there are some 40,000 persons of concern registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. Approximately 20,000 are Acehnese from the Indonesian Province of Aceh, while some 10,000 are Rohingyas from the Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. The remaining 10,000 are other ethnic minorities from Myanmar and from other countries.