Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Three weeks since Malaysian authorities imposed a restriction of movement order in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, refugees in the country are struggling to make ends meet in the nation that has the highest reported number of infections in Southeast Asia.
“Now it is a very critical situation for refugees living in Malaysia,” said Rafik Shah Mohd Ismail, coordinator of Human Aid Selangor, one of the community centres trying to meet the needs of the approximately 7,000 refugees living in the Selayang area, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
The fastest response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the refugee communities in Kuala Lumpur has come from within the communities themselves. Face masks, soaps, sanitiser and food are being distributed in the most crowded and vulnerable refugee communities.
“Many people call me as a community leader asking for food, asking me how can they go for COVID-19 checks,” Ismail said. “People cannot go out for doing their jobs anymore. Malaysian people have the government to help them, but the government doesn’t provide any aid for refugees. Many of them are daily workers, they earn 30-40 Malaysian ringgit ($7-9), they will use that amount every day to buy food, medicine, and pay their rents.”
Meanwhile, the refugee communities are actively helping the front line of the fight against COVID-19 by cooking and delivering daily free lunches for medical personnel at the Ampang Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
Twelve chefs have agreed to take turns in cooking traditional foods from their home countries.
“We know that many amongst the refugees are chefs and so, we approached them to ask if they would cook if we would facilitate the delivery. They immediately said ‘yes’,” said Mahi Ramakrishnan, coordinator of the move.
“The initiative has brought about a huge positive response from Malaysians and others. It clearly showed that refugees can effectively contribute to the society, and demonstrated how they are a part of the society.”