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Symposia 4: Malaysia’s Immigration Crisis? The Different Experiences of Migrants, Refugees and Expats

Event Details

Date: December 5th
Time: 2pm – 5pm
Location: Rumah Gerakbudaya, No 2 Jalan Bukit 11/2, Seksyen 11, Petaling Jaya

Moderator: Por Heong Hong
Panelists: Chan Chee Khoon, Simon Williams, Victor Karunan
Format: Panel Discussion with Q&A

For our next series of Symposia events we will move from the topic of education to look at the role and experiences of immigrants in Malaysia. Immigration is an issue rarely out of the news in Malaysia, but as we all know, not all immigrants are treated equally. The terms ‘immigrant’ and ‘foreigner’ can be used to describe people who are otherwise classified as refugees, undocumented workers, foreign workers, domestic workers or even expats. Categories which denote all sorts of racial, national, gendered, economic and class inequalities.

When people say that Malaysia has an immigration problem, they tend not to mean that Malaysia has too many expats working for MNC’s or retirees. They usually mean that Malaysia has too many foreign workers or refugees who come from supposedly ‘undesirable’ places and supposedly bring with them a whole series of social problems.
We’re interested, then, to investigate how these different ways of categorizing immigrants are used to produce different experiences for migrants in Malaysia, whether at the border, in contact with government agencies, or while trying to access basic necessities such as education, healthcare and work.

Key questions we’ll be looking to answer are: what is the source of these inequalities, how do they translate into different lived experiences, and why is integration into the Malaysian nation easier for some rather than others? Does this just relate to Malaysia’s relationship with outsiders, or are there more fundamental problems with the project of Malaysian nationalism and its politics? Is it possible to formulate a response to migration which isn’t impacted by considerations of race, nation, gender and class?

To this end we for our series of events on migration we are convening a panel of academics and activists to outline the politics of immigration in Malaysia and the work being done to change things. These are:

Dr. Chan Chee Khoon – a health policy analyst at the Centre for Poverty & Development Studies, University of Malaya who works on healthcare provision for (un)documented migrants in Southeast Asia

Simon Williams – Lecturer at Taylor’s University. Researches on the education of marginalised communities in Malaysia with a particular focus on refugees. He is also an organiser of the Stories From series which is soon to publish a series of autobiographical stories on the experiences of refugees in Kuala Lumpur.

Victor Karunan – Representative of Unicef Malaysia and also their Senior Social Policy Specialist, with a knowledge of child migration and trafficking.

A Q&A session will be held at the end with lots of opportunity for debate and discussion.

Moving forwards we will be holding further events in a group discussion format which will look to deal with concrete problems surrounding migration. We will be interested to look at topics such as the intersection between migration, gender and sexuality, migrant labour rights, the provision of healthcare and education and debates surrounding migration and citizenship. We hope at the end of this series to produce a collective piece of research which those in attendance can contribute towards.

Please register at

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