Syrian family in dire straits with no avenue for legal employment in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR - When a pregnant Fatima Jarada left war-torn Syria to seek refuge here, little did she expect to pay a high sum to deliver her youngest child.

The final two months of her pregnancy cost her RM1,200 at Hospital Selayang. She gave birth naturally to a baby boy in September 2012.

“It was way cheaper back home but the hospital here was good,” said Fatima, 38.

According to the hospital’s website, Malay­sians pay only RM10 for a natural birth while foreigners pay RM500 for the same procedure.

Her husband Yaya Al-Akraa, 45, however, had no complaints about the amount they paid. He was more bugged by not being able to work.

Yaya wanted to be a driver but could not apply for a local driving licence because of his refugee status. As a result, the couple and their four children are living purely on Yaya’s savings.

Their teenage son helps out by working part-time for an Arab businessman.

“I can’t speak Bahasa or English so I can’t get a job at restaurants,” said Yaya as he and his wife served the best Middle Eastern fare to guests, like most Arabs do, during the interview.

The family lives in a spartan 500sq ft two-room flat with only mattresses on the floor for guests.

On a typical day, Yaya and Fatima stay home with their three-year-old while their other children attend school.

“Life is simple here. If I go back to Syria, they’d kill me,” Yaya said through his 15-year-old son, who spoke fluent Malay.

Yaya was a construction worker who got into trouble with the Syrian authorities over a rented house and, fed up with the chaos in the Middle East, brought his family to Malaysia.

Refugees are not given documentation to work locally because Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention.

Meanwhile, to mark World Refugee Day today, themed “With Courage Let Us All Combine”, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam called on the Government to sign on to the convention.

Saying that the refugees in Malaysia were not economic migrants, he said “they are people unable to return to their countries due to a fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion or nationality”.

There are currently 153,004 registered refugees in Malaysia.