A refugee tailor in Kuala Lumpur gives back to the community

Afghan Refugees: Stories of hope, strength, and resilience

Since 2020, the tailors have produced over 30,000 pieces of medical PPEs which were distributed to government clinics conducting COVID-19 screenings, and 400,000 face masks for various organisations.
© UNHCR/VictorChan

Malaysia currently hosts some 179,500 refugees registered with UNHCR and 2,640 of them are from Afghanistan. Many of the Afghan refugees arrived in Malaysia since 2001, fleeing conflict and persecution in their homeland. They have made Malaysia their temporary home until it is safe to go back.

With the spotlight on the recent and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Afghan refugees in Malaysia share their thoughts on the situation in Afghanistan, as well as their determination to not only keep their community strong and empowered while they are seeking refuge in Malaysia, but also to give back to the country that has given them protection.
 


 

Sajad has been a refugee all his life. 


“My parents left Afghanistan for Iran to avoid persecution. I was born in Iran, raised there, and got married there,” said the 29-year-old. “Most of my family members were in the tailoring industry there so I decided to learn it and support my family this way.” 


Fearing persecution in Iran, Sajad and his family fled to Malaysia in 2015. 


After a period of adjustment, Sajad enrolled in a training run by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to help refugees find opportunities for self-reliance. This eventually led him to join a tailoring programme run by an NGO. 


“This NGO asked me to work with them, sewing things like clothes and bags. I was happily working there. I earned an allowance, and I could support my family,” said Sajad.


When the Movement Control Order (MCO) commenced in Malaysia in mid-March 2020, Sajad found himself idle at home and eager to contribute. He received a call from a social enterprise asking whether he would be interested in sewing PPEs for medical front liners, and Sajad immediately jumped at the opportunity to help.


Sajad quickly engaged 20 other skilled tailors from the Afghan refugee community, and the group started sewing medical PPE items, including jumpsuits, gowns, head covers, shoe covers, and masks.


Since 2020, the tailors have produced over 30,000 pieces of medical PPEs which were distributed to government clinics conducting COVID-19 screenings, and 400,000 face masks for various organisations.

“I feel proud because we are doing something for the country, especially when during this difficult Covid-19 time,” he said. “When we saw that the Malaysians were happy and appreciative of our efforts, it made us really happy.” 

The tailoring project now provides livelihood opportunities for refugees who may find it difficult to earn a living due to language barriers and other limitations. It also empowers Afghan women who may otherwise find it difficult to leave the community to look for a job outside.


The recent developments in Afghanistan have affected the community here. Sajad knows of many refugees who still have families in Afghanistan. 


“They cannot contact their loved ones in Afghanistan, they are worried, and they don’t know what is happening. But when you are a refugee yourself, you cannot really do much to help. 

“I just hope the world will be kind to the people in Afghanistan and those who are escaping the country,” pleaded Sajad.

"I just hope the world will be kind to the people in Afghanistan and those who are escaping the country," pleaded Sajad.

"I just hope the world will be kind to the people in Afghanistan and those who are escaping the country," pleaded Sajad.  © UNHCR/VictorChan

“I am sad for the Afghan people who don’t have happiness anymore,” he said. “What I hope for is peace and stability in the country. Only then can people start to pick up the pieces of their lives again.”


Sajad hopes to one day return to Afghanistan. “I never lived in a country that I could call my own. I was born a refugee and I never knew what freedom is. I hope one day there will be peace and I can return to Afghanistan again.” 


In the meantime, Sajad appreciates the Malaysian community that has taken him in. He reflected on all the acts of kindness his family and community have received from Malaysians since he first arrived. 


“We came from difficulty but when we arrived in Malaysia, the locals helped us. We want to give back. I believe that refugees can contribute to society wherever we are,” Sajad said with a smile on his face.

 

With additional reporting from Alia Surayya, Kara Simon, and Rahimah Rashith