Unaccompanied and separated refugee and asylum seeking children. Who are they?
Children are among the most vulnerable population, and particularly so if they are unaccompanied or separated from their families. Many children become separated from their families or from other adults responsible for them due to armed conflict and migration. As such, unaccompanied and separated refugee and asylum seeking children in Malaysia face significant protection risks. Most reside in unsafe spaces and are often left to survive without the protection and care of a legal guardian.
UASC registered as persons of concern with UNHCR in 2018. The numbers of undocumented UASC in the country remain unknown
Children without a face
How many of us take pictures or videos of ourselves and post it up on social media without having to worry about the legality of our identity? Imagine a child surviving alone in a foreign country without access to basic needs such as shelter, food and health care because of his or her identity. These children chose to remain hidden due to the risk of arrest and detention.
No legal status
Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Malaysian law makes no distinction between refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. Because of this, an undocumented unaccompanied and separated child is vulnerable to arrest for immigration offences. They may be subject to detention, persecution and deportation.
No access to basic rights
An unaccompanied and separated children’s illegal status directly impacts the child’s well-being. Basic needs, such as a place to stay, physical health care, food, education, material provision and mental
well-being are not accessible by the child.
Children without a trace
In this day and age, it is unimaginable for us to let our children roam the streets without making sure they are safe. UASC in Malaysia are an invisible community. Without a trusted adult to safeguard their well-being, there are a high risk of abuse, exploitation or neglect. If nobody knows of their existence, who will know if they go missing?
Risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation
UASC are particularly at risk of violence, exploitation, abuse or neglect. These children may be targeted for trafficking, smuggling, sale and illegal adoption.
Broken support system
Family separation has a long term negative
impact on the well-being of a child. Lack of family care and protection increases the risk for separated and unaccompanied children. They have no one they trust to turn to. Most have to assume adult responsibilities in order to fend for themselves.
Children without a space
UASC in Malaysia face many challenges and most of them are not within their control. They do not have the opportunity to participate in finding an effective solution to address issues that affect them. More often than not, these children are not given the space to express their opinions freely.
No freedom of expression
Most unaccompanied and separated children’s voices are not heard although every child has the right to express freely their opinion concerning their lives. They do not have a safe platform to express their needs and opinions freely.
No freedom of movement
Unaccompanied and separated children’s illegal status made it unsafe for them to move around safely. They are at risk of being stopped by authorities and detained. These children are constantly laying low and living in high pressured situations.
How can you help?
There are ways you can make unaccompanied and separated refugee children lives better in Malaysia. Here are some of things you can do.