Malaysian Legal Aid Scheme to Empower Refugees On Rights

Active participant from refugees at the RALAS Training.   © UNHCR/Devindiran Paramanantham

Kuala Lumpur, 19 December 2018 (UNHCR) - UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the Bar Council (Kuala Lumpur) Legal Aid Centre (KLLAC) launched the first phase of a programme to provide legal empowerment for refugee communities living in the Klang Valley.

The Refugees and Asylum-seekers Legal Aid Scheme (RALAS) is the first of its kind in Malaysia, organised by the two organisations.

The programme commenced in October this year, and wrapped up its first phase recently in early December.

“UNHCR observed an increasing number of legal concerns and queries raised by refugees during our regular engagement with them,” said Caroline Samuel, the head of UNHCR’s Protection Unit in Kuala Lumpur.

“In response to this, we designed RALAS with the KLLAC to empower refugee communities with knowledge of relevant laws in Malaysia, including their legal rights and obligations. RALAS is also an opportunity for refugees to receive free legal consultations from trained lawyers.”

Since its commencement, three sessions have been held with over 150 participants from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar (Rohingya), Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. To ensure representation, the participants comprised refugees of diverse backgrounds, age, and gender groups.

One on one: Refugees found opportunities to speak directly to lawyers on their legal concerns at the RALAS Training  © UNHCR/Devendiran Paramanantham

The RALAS sessions provided comprehensive and practical training on refugees’ legal rights and obligations under the Malaysia’s legal system, particularly pertaining to employment, family, Syariah, and civil law; and free legal consultation to individual refugees.

Zeeshan, a Pakistani refugee community leader who participated in the programme, found the training informative, in particular in understanding their rights when detained, and how to seek legal services. He added that due to the knowledge he learnt, members of his community have benefitted too.

“The information I received has really helped me guide my own community. I am the person who is in charge of going to prison and court to assist when my people get into trouble, so all that I’ve learnt at the training has been very important information,” said Zeeshan.

Zeeshan felt that these kinds of trainings need to continue, as legal information is important so that refugee communities understand their rights and obligations.

In preparation for RALAS, 30 lawyers selected by KLLAC underwent a Training for Trainers programme. The sessions were facilitated by senior lawyers of KLLAC in areas of criminal law, immigration law, family and syariah law, and civil law, and included on UNHCR’s protection mandate, the challenges facing refugees in Malaysia, and applicable laws that could protect them.

Collin Andrew, Chairman of the KLLAC, said that the response received from the participants of all three sessions, has been positive.

“During the sessions, the participants raised many questions on various practical issues that they faced - such as immigration issues, criminal matters, even issues related to tenancy disputes,” said Andrew. “We were able to provide them with the necessary legal knowledge, and what to do when they were faced with such problems.”

UNHCR and the KLLAC plan to start the next phase in 2019, including to expand to more communities beyond the Klang Valley.