Why do they hate us, says harassed chief of refugee NGO

Food supplies for refugees and migrants collected by the Refuge for the Refugees group. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: The leader of a local NGO says she has faced a barrage of hateful comments on social media after she shed light on the plight of refugees and migrants.

One Facebook user went as far as telling her to kill herself, said Heidy Quah, the founder of Refuge for the Refugees, in an online posting expressing deep disappointment over the harassment.

Quah said she was perplexed by the degree of hatred some Malaysians held against refugees and migrants. She said the level of hate comments has spiked of late, particularly during the movement control order period.

Heidy Quah, founder of Refuge for the Refugees

“I’ve been working in this field for nearly 10 years. I’ve received some criticism, but nothing as extreme as this. People have been filling up my inbox sending all sorts of hate comments, and not just insulting my thoughts and opinions.

“It’s okay if you want to disengage, but don’t come to a point of threatening my safety. Don’t come to a point of attacking my family and race,” said Quah, who was also called names such as “pendatang” (immigrant) and “pengkhianat negara” (traitor to the country).

“I’m trying to understand why some people feel that it is such a threat when I speak up about what’s happening in the centres,” she told FMT.

Others in the field were also receiving similarly hateful comments. She said she plans to lodge a report with the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

In her initial Facebook post, Quah described her experience in working with a woman who had been detained at an immigration detention depot right after giving birth to a child.

She shed light on the poor conditions and amenities at the centre. She said the women lacked sanitary pads and food, and she was asked to get milk and diapers for the woman’s baby.

The posting gathered mixed reactions, with some in support of the migrants and some in condemnation.

However, one user said: “Go hang yourself!”

“The tone of the conversation has shifted quite a bit. People used to not be so extreme,” she said.

Quah pleaded to Malaysians to view the refugee and migrant community as fellow humans and to get to know them as individuals.

She said many of them fled their countries simply because it was a life or death situation while falling victim to scams and human trafficking syndicates.

“I’m quite surprised that people are under the impression that it’s much better for them here when it’s not. They still live in fear of their safety.

“We are really privileged to not be born under the same circumstances as them, but what if we were? How would we want to be treated and addressed then?” she asked.

She urged government leaders to consider the contributions of migrants and refugees towards building the nation, particularly by those working in hard labour.

She urged Putrajaya to learn how to utilise these resources and build on their strength, adding that a chunk of the economy was realistically dependent on these communities.

“The more we regulate things and have laws in place, when it’s less of a grey area, everyone contributes more effectively to the system,” she said

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