SHOWBIZ: Stars to the aid of refugees

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It’s World Refugee Day today and local celebrities have come out to help UNHCR raise public awareness

CELEBRITIES have come forth to support the refugee cause, in the latest effort by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to raise public awareness, in conjunction with World Refugee Day today.

Five celebrities are photographed with refugees, calling for the public to help the refugees to rebuild their lives. The five are Miss Universe Malaysia and refugee rights activist Deborah Henry, TV personality Aishah Sinclair, TV anchor and journalist Daphne Iking, entrepreneur and singer Reshmonu, and singer-songwriter Reza Salleh.

They are featured in a series of five posters that carry the central messages of compassion and empathy for refugees who have been forced to flee their countries due to armed conflicts and human rights abuse. The posters appeal for support for these refugees who work tirelessly to help their own communities while they are here, in areas such as education, livelihoods and healthcare.

The posters will be displayed at Bangsar Village One concourse from today until July 1.

The public can help by making donations, volunteering their time, or speaking about the issue to others. The campaign also aims to mobilise support for refugee-run projects, while creating a positive perception of refugees as empowered and hard-working individuals.

The posters were developed through the pro bono services of advertising agency Leo Burnett Malaysia and photographer Ted Adnan Asmadi.

Aishah visited a refugee women’s empowerment centre called Mang Tha, run by a group of refugee women from Myanmar. In the poster, she is photographed with a refugee woman who is teaching her fellow refugees to weave fabric with a traditional loom.

Aishah’s message is “Many refugee women do not have livelihood skills, but are willing to learn so that they can provide for their families. Just do one thing to help them as they help themselves”.

Daphne sits with a group of pre-school refugee children from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Iran at a centre called Sahabat Centre. The children are eager for her attention, and she patiently interacts with each one. As a mother, her passion for protecting children’s rights is apparent.

“Refugee kids deserve a normal childhood, free of fear. We can help make a safer environment for them to play in and just be children,” she says.

In a cramped classroom in an informal learning centre run by a Myanmar refugee group, Reza Salleh obliges the crowd’s request for a sing-a-long session. Several songs later, he is photographed with refugee children from Myanmar, as he shows the chords to a refugee youth who is eager to learn music.

In his poster, Reza says “Refugee youth need to survive in a modern world. If we can do one thing to help them, it’s to give them a chance at a better future.”

Reshmonu visited a Rohingya refugee family of 13 from Myanmar. They live in a small terrace house, where there is only one breadwinner in the family. The women are at home when he visits, getting ready the midday meal. In spite of their difficult circumstances, they are happy to be together and safe.

Reshmonu’s message is “Refugees left their homes because of war and human rights abuse. What they need now is space to rebuild their lives in safety and with dignity. Surely we can help them.”

Deborah is no stranger to advocating for the rights of refugees. She helped set up Fugee School in 2009, a learning centre for Somali refugees here which recently expanded to include skills-building classes for Somali women.

She is photographed with some of the older students who are learning to sew so that they can be self-sustaining.

Her message is “Refugees are not looking for charity. Like us, they do not want to be a burden. Let them work legally and they can provide for themselves.”

Create a humanitarian space

• World Refugee Day is celebrated worldwide on June 20 each year to recognise the courage of refugees in rebuilding their lives despite the horrors they have faced, and to create awareness and garner public support for creating a humanitarian space for them.

• As of end April, there are some 98,100 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UN Refugee Agency in Malaysia. Some 89,900 are from Myanmar, comprising some 34,430 Chins, 22,840 Rohingyas, 10,480 Myanmar Muslims, 10,510 Rakhines, 3,780 Mons, 3,250 Kachins and others from other ethnicities from Myanmar.

• There are some 8,200 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including some 4,480 Sri Lankans, 1,090 Somalis, 790 Iraqis and 440 Afghans, and others from other countries.

• Seventy-one per cent of refugees and asylum-seekers are men, while the remainder are women. There are some 20,000 children below the age of 18.

Art with heart

STARTING today, a specially designed Gin & Jacqie bag will be on sale in support of refugee children in the country under a fundraising initiative called Art With Heart: A Refugee Art Project.

For a limited time, proceeds from the sales will go towards refugee education programmes in Malaysia under the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This project was initiated by Gin & Jacqie in collaboration with UNHCR in Malaysia.

The exclusive bag features a stunning artwork made by a refugee youth and carries with it the story of the artist. The artwork was selected from over 100 submissions from refugee youth.

UNHCR conducted an art competition among refugee youth aged 14-17, to select the winning design for the bag. Entries were received from refugees of various nationalities including those from Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The 20 shortlisted artworks are displayed at Bangsar Village One from today until July 1. The bags are sold during the exhibition period and are available online at www.ginjacqie.com, and at selected bookstores.

Reshmonu with Rohingya refugees

Aishah with a refugee woman who is willing to teach her friends to weave

Deborah with students learning to sew

Daphne with pre-schoolers


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