• Siti Munawirah Mustaffa | IOM Malaysia Communications Assistant

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – A glimmer of hope shines through the eyes of *Khin, *Sandar, *Zaharah and their family throughout a cultural orientation session conducted by IOM Malaysia as they look forward to a new beginning in a country they have never been to before – Republic of Korea (ROK). Seated at their respective tables with interpreters on their side, questions on what to expect from their resettlement are met with encouraging responses, ensuring a safe sharing space throughout the session. 

Khin was barely 18 years of age when he arrived in Malaysia for the first time in 2019. Born in Namti, a small town in the Kachin state of Myanmar, he grew up as an only child with his widowed single mother. The decision to leave his birthplace was out of security and safety concerns. Through the help of his mother’s friend, his crossing to Malaysia was arranged across land and sea, spanning several days. Unfortunately for Khin, he had to embark on the journey alone, as it was too risky for his mother, who is currently in an internally displaced persons camp, to join him. 

In another family, 49-year-old Sandar was left with no other option apart from leaving her hometown Yangon in 2011. Seeking a safer life in Malaysia, she came alone like Khin, with both her parents having passed away before she fled the country. 

“Life is safer in Malaysia compared to back home,” says Khin. “Having a UNHCR card helps to ease our movement here, although there are still limitations as refugees are not allowed to work.”

The offer for resettlement came as a relief for Khin and Sandar, who note the difficulty for refugees to find work in Malaysia. PHOTO: IOM 2023/Siti Munawirah Mustaffa

“While it’s good that we finally got a chance to live in Malaysia, it’s really difficult for us to find jobs that match our skills and experience,” adds Sandar.  

Echoing their sentiments, Syrian refugee Zaharah recalls her experience of receiving threats from locals, making her feel unsafe to simply move around and seek work. Fortunately for the 39-year-old, her husband, who relocated to ROK over two decades ago for work, has been financially supporting the family. Even so, the mother of four wishes to find work for herself once she and her family reunite with her husband after fleeing the war in Syria in 2018. 

The offer for resettlement came as an enormous relief to these individuals as they have gone through an arduous journey to seek safety outside their respective homelands, followed by years of an uncertain future. For refugees and migrants worldwide, the prospect of relocation means an open door to a wide array of opportunities. This year alone, IOM Malaysia is assisting with the departures of over 8,000 individual refugees to a third country, the highest to date since 2017. 

Upon completion of the cultural orientation session, Khin, Sandar, Zaharah and their family will undergo a medical checkup before they take off. Each one of them has a plan and a dream of their own. Khin wishes to become a professional dancer, and Sandar aspires to pursue her studies that can enable her to become a professional caregiver. As for Zaharah, she would be happy to see her children attain a good education and have better lives.

Zaharah and her four children look forward to reuniting with her husband in ROK. Photo: IOM 2023/Siti Munawirah Mustaffa

“My family and I are very thankful to have received the support from IOM, as they are doing a lot in helping the refugee communities. We look forward to a new start and living safely with dignity,” says Zaharah. 


*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals.  

This story was written by Siti Munawirah Mustaffa, IOM Malaysia Communications Assistant,  


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