United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees Official Unveiling Of Photographs Of Refugees In Malaysia

Dr. Volker Turk, UNHCR Representative,

Dato’ Seri Mohamad Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good evening.

It gives me great pleasure to be here this evening to officially unveil the photo exhibition “Face to Face: Confronting the Humanity of Refugees in Malaysia” This exhibition I am told, takes us on a journey through refugee camps and captures the stark and honest images of refugee life in Malaysia. I would like to congratulate UNHCR and Bernice Chauly on a heartrending collection of photographs.

2. The United Nations has been called the indispensable global organisation for a globalizing world. Today the world is faced with, to use Kofi Annam’s memorable phrase, innumerable “problems without passports” – threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the degradation of the environment, the spread of contagious diseases and chronic starvation, human rights and human wrongs, and massive population displacement. These are problems that no one country, however powerful can solve alone. They cry out for solutions that, like the problems themselves, also cross frontiers. The UNHCR has become the lead humanitarian agency, in a world where humanitarian assistance has become a massive global enterprise involving hundreds of aid agencies and NGO’s.

3. Every year millions of people around the world flee torture, injustice, persecution and the violation of their basic human rights. Displaced by war, famine, civil and political unrest, they are forced out of their homelands in the search for justice, peace and protection. Risking their lives to live as strangers in an alien land, these people have lost parents, spouses, siblings, children, close relatives and friends. They have lost their homes, their livelihoods and support structure – all that is familiar to them. Forced to rebuild their lives in a foreign land, refugees in many instances continue to live as strangers in their place of refuge.

4. Though Malaysia is not bound by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, we are however bound by our human compassion to protect refugees and respect their rights. Malaysia should be more inclined than most to being hospitable to those seeking shelter. We are already a diverse society thanks to an influx of migrants in earlier centuries. Some were fortune seekers; others indentured labour. But most were fleeing the hardship, poverty and tyranny of their homeland. They too came to an alien land with nothing. They were welcomed. Today Malaysia is home. The migrant psyche can relate to that of the refugee.

5. Empathy with the refugee runs deep in the historical memory of Muslims. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), followers of Islam were persecuted, harassed, abused, and tortured because of their faith and their way of life. Fearing for their safety the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and his followers were forced to flee Mecca. They reached Medina – their place of refuge. Medina took the foreigners into their midst, embraced them with open arms. The welcome, the acceptance and the support they received helped them start again. Medina will forever be seen as a symbol of supreme humanitarianism in the Muslim mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

6. This year we recognise the indomitable spirit and courage of people forced to find refuge in a foreign land; the courage to rebuild lost lives. Each photograph here today tells a story of a life torn apart by the cruelties in our world today, but also a story of hope for a better future. It is my hope that this photo exhibition achieves its objective: to touch the hearts and minds of people around the world to be champions of peace, to recognise and acknowledge the tremendous courage, fortitude and determination of refugees to get on with their lives after having lost everything.

7. These photographs testify to the enduring needs of these displaced and denationalized populations, and to remind us that helping refugees is not only a matter of principle, it is also a matter of international peace and security. Refugee flights threaten international peace and security. These compelling images call for greater international involvement in peacebuilding and human security. They force us to not only ask what else might have been done for the displaced and uprooted, but also what else can be done in the future.

8. Once again I congratulate UNHCR for organising this exhibition and Bernice Chauly for her efforts and collaboration in creating awareness about the refugee. It is now my pleasure to declare open this photo exhibition “Face to Face: Confronting the Humanity of Refugees in Malaysia”.

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