Where Education Matters Most For Refugee Children

By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 (Bernama) — According to the statistics issued by UNHCR Malaysia, as of last Sept 30, there were 63,600 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UN Refugee Agency.

From this figure, 58,000 were from Myanmar comprising some 27,700 Chins, 15,900 Rohingyas, 3,800 Myanmar Muslims, 2,300 Kachins and the remaining being other ethnic minorities from that country.

There were also some 5,600 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including 2,700 Sri Lankans, 760 Somalis, 530 Iraqis and 530 Afghans.

Based on the available statistics, 51 per cent of the refugees and asylum-seekers were men while women made up 49 per cent. There were 14,600 children below the age of 18.

UNHCR Malaysia said there were also a large number of persons of concern to the agency who remained unregistered and the figure was said to be around 30,000.


For Zin Oo Ko, who is from Myanmar and whose family migrated to Malaysia in the late 80s, only education would take the refugee children off the streets and prevent them from becoming a generation of beggars apart from being dragged into being part of the ‘bad hats’.

Zin said there were two groups of Rohingya refugee children who took to the streets as beggars in Malaysia.

On one side, the children were in the clutches of a triad from their own ethnic group and local gangs who paid some money to the parents of the children and the children themselves before sending them out to the streets to beg.

“The other group are those who have no choice but to beg and begging is the easiest form of earning a livelihood,” he said.

Zin then related the story of Abdul Rahim who is Anwar Begum’s (the Rohingya refugee child mentioned in the first part of this article) older brother who had to ‘beg’ to support his family.

“He was actually selling religious books but this is also considered like begging because there is no fixed amount for the books. It is up to the people to give him whatever amount they thought suitable.

“The family is ashamed to allow Abdul Rahim to do this but they have no choice and the boy is also too young to get a job. The father used to go round collecting metal scraps and recycled items but later he became too ill and became bedridden,” said zin.

The young boy then started to mix with the bad elements and was later picked up by the authorities. After some considerations by the relevant authorities, they decided to send him to a reform school in Kelantan.


Zin said poverty, particularly for the refugees, served not only as the breeding ground for crimes but also for the refugees to rapidly ‘multiply’ in their number as were ignorant of family planning.

“To me, the only way to get these people out from the clutches of poverty is through education. We can give them rice, a packet or two or give them money but money is never enough.

“We need to empower them, especially the children, teach them how to fish, not just giving them the fish so they can stand on their own two feet. What if one day I am not here anymore and also the people who are helping them?

“What would happen to them then? Would they go back to their old lives? In a way I am a bit worried,” Zin said in an interview with Bernama here recently.

Zin who can also speak fluent Bahasa Malaysia said he had taken onto himself to teach some of the Rohingya children including Anwar Begum and her siblings. The students are between five and 23 years old.


According to the 30-year-old Zin, he started teaching the children around end of 2005 until recently where he decided to temporarily stop pending getting a proper place to conduct the classes.

“I was going from house to house, teaching Bahasa Malaysia, English, some Mathematics and religious studies. The children were great, very responsive and excited to learn.

It is satisfying to see the glow on their faces as they respond to my teaching. They also love drawings.

“Anwar Begum for example. She can now read. Three years ago she knows nothing. She can also listen to the Malay news and translate them for her parents,” said Zin who has a Malaysian Permanent Resident (PR) status.

Zin himself has no experience in teaching but after asking around from his friends who are teachers and lecturers, he begins to develop his own syllabus to teach the children.

“I feel privileged that I can assist them. We are not in their situation, we are the lucky ones and if we compare our lives to theirs and also our every day problems, it is nothing compared to what they are going through.

“They are practically living with no hope, no dreams, no tomorrow, nothing. I am helping them straight from my heart. My goal is, let’s say out of 100 students, if I can get one into university, this is already very rewarding. This will take some time but I am willing to do this forever.

“At the same time for those who cannot study, I want to give them vocational training like that in wiring, house renovations, auto mechanics and handicrafts. This is my long-term plan,” said Zin.


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