UNHCR, developed countries urged to do more to educate refugee kids


PETALING JAYA: An education group has come to the government’s defence following a report by Unesco which said Malaysia was not progressing quickly enough in making education more inclusive for the children of migrants and refugees.

The National Parent-Teacher Association Consultative Council (PIBGN) said it was unfair to imply that Malaysia was not doing enough as this was a process which needed to be done in stages, with the assistance of others.

The group’s chairman Mohamad Ali Hassan said developed countries and related agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should provide more funds and expertise for the education of refugees.

“For us to help provide basic education for refugee children, there also has to be understanding and cooperation from the refugees’ country of origin,” he said in response to the 2019 Global Education Monitoring report by Unesco published yesterday.

The report, titled “Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges Not Walls”, highlighted the achievements and shortcomings of countries in ensuring the right of migrant and refugee children to benefit from quality education which would serve both their interests as well as those of the communities in which they live.

Tengku Emma Zuriana Tengku Azmi, the European Rohingya Council’s ambassador to Malaysia, said refugee children should be allowed to enrol in public schools.

In the case of the Rohingya, she added, they might not be able to return to Myanmar anytime soon.

Because of this, she said, there was a need to manage them as well as refugee children from other countries to minimise the risk of them becoming involved in social ills.

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Tengku Emma said Malaysia did not currently have any framework to allow refugee children to enrol in public schools. Those who did go to school attended centres run by their own communities.

“Some of these schools are monitored and some are not. Hopefully their syllabus is okay, but for those that are not being monitored, we do not know what is being taught.”

She said it would not be good if the material taught to these children wasn’t compatible with the norms in Malaysia.

“We want them to assimilate with us so that they can contribute to the country. If they don’t go to school, they may end up involved in child labour or prostitution, or become child brides.”

Because the government might not presently have the funds to help educate these children, she said, it was acceptable to ask the refugees to pay a reasonable fee for education.

Tengku Emma added that in some community schools, the parents of refugees were willing to pay RM75 per month in school fees, while bodies such as UNHCR and the Malaysia Islamic Organisations Consultative Council funded the operations of some of these schools.

Sabah-based NGO, Advocates for Non-discrimination and Access to Knowledge, also supported the idea of allowing refugee children to attend school.

A spokesman for the group said if the government was worried about implementation, it could be rolled out in several phases to ensure that schools were ready to accept the children.

“For government schools, non-citizen children have usually been asked to pay extra fees. This should be able to help in the rolling out of accepting these children in school.”

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