Now in my backyard

In June 2022, five JRS volunteers made a trip across the Causeway to visit the refugee community and the dedicated team of people who are ‘called to serve’ them. Gordon Pinto, a JRS Board member who led the group from Singapore, shares the group’s experience.

It has been more than 2 years since JRS volunteers visited the projects of Kumpulan ACTS1 due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. As the COVID 19 situation stabilises in the region, and travel restrictions between Malaysia and Singapore are lifted, a group of us comprising Josephine, Karen, Tee Heng, Foeng and I travelled to Kuala Lumpur on 24th June to visit Kumpulan ACTS’ Arrupe Clinic and its two convalescent homes for refugees, PERCH I & II.

At Arrupe Clinic on our first morning, Rosemary Chong, Kumpulan ACTS Executive Director, gave us an update on the refugee situation in Malaysia. She shared how the pandemic has had an impact on the work of Kumpulan ACTS and the challenges they face while serving the refugees in Malaysia. According to statistics, there are some 182,960 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia as of May 2022.

Visit to Arrupe Clinc

The clinic, which is located in the heart of KL, provides medical consultation and outpatient treatment for refugees. It has seen a steady rise in mental health cases since the COVID pandemic hit. Visiting the Arrupe clinic for the first time, Foeng shared, “I was surprised, and even more impressed, that the clinic at Brickfields serves more than 25,000 refugees each year.”

At the PERCH II convalescent home, the JRS team had the opportunity to chat with the female residents who are mainly refugees from Myanmar. The ladies shared their stories, especially about their medical conditions, or that of their children, plus their dreams and hopes of being cured and resettled in another country.

Over the weekend, the JRS team joined the Kumpulan ACTS team on a long drive up North, to Kuantan to observe the deployment of the Kumpulan ACTS Mobile Medical Outreach Clinic. Led by doctor-in-charge of Arrupe and PERCH, Dr Caroline Gunn, the consultations were organized at a workshop located in a remote area and another in the town. An average of 40 to 50 refugees sought medical consultation at both clinics.

Medicine for the mobile clinic
Dr Caroline Gunn attending to a patient
Dr Caroline Gunn attending to a patient

At the Church, JRS volunteers engaged in a dialogue with leaders in COBEM (Coalition of Burma Ethnics Malaysia), a refugee community-based organisation in Malaysia. Through this dialogue session, the JRS team had first-hand accounts of the struggles and challenges faced by refugees from the various Burmese ethnic groups, their hopes as well as their aspirations.

Reflecting on the trip, Tee Heng shared, “I was moved by the committed volunteers at Kumpulan and self-organized refugee leaders who stepped up to serve the community.”

Kumpulan ACTS and the refugees appreciate and are encouraged by our visits. The team is now putting together a group to participate in the upcoming Kumpulan ACTS Outreach Clinic in Johor which is scheduled for October 2022. This will be a fantastic opportunity for us from Singapore to come face to face with our refugee brethren and to fulfil our JRS mission − to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

1 ACTS (A Call to Serve) was formed in 2003 when it was asked by JRS Asia Pacific to provide medical aid to about 500 Burmese asylum seekers in Putrajaya.