Southeast Asia Dispatches is a fortnightly podcast bringing you reports, interviews and commentary from New Naratif’s network around Southeast Asia.
Is Malaysia’s Parliament Dead?
On the 16th of August, Malaysia’s 8th prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet, who came to power via a political coup in 2020, officially resigned. At the time of this recording, the next prime minister is being selected by a secret vote by members of parliament via statutory declarations to the king. The next prime minister—the third in two years—will be just another product of a long-running political crisis. How can Malaysians enact meaningful change when politicians can so easily topple the government by jumping between coalitions?
On this week's episode, Deborah Augustin speaks to Arveent Kathirtchelvan and Chong Yee Shan from Parti Sosialis Malaysia about the limitations of electoral politics and potential alternatives to this system.
Why Malaysia’s COVID-19 Aid Isn’t Reaching Queer Communities
Since March 2020, Malaysia has been placed under several movement control orders (MCOs) that restrict movement and business operations in order to curb COVID-19 infections. However, the MCOs have also resulted in rising unemployment, business closures and increased food insecurity. Cash aid from the government has been disbursed in several stages, with the next one only due to arrive in August 2021. As the country faces increasing economic difficulties in the wake of the pandemic, mutual aid funds have sprung up around Malaysia to provide food and cash aid to affected communities.
However, LGBTQIA+ people face an extra hurdle when it comes to accessing aid. Fears of discrimination, being dead-named and an increasingly hostile environment toward queer people prevents them from accessing aid from public COVID-19 funds.
In this episode, Deborah Augustin speaks to Nisha Ayub from SEED Foundation and Connie Connor, an organiser with the Queer Solidarity Fund, about the need for LGBTQIA+ specific mutual aid funds that are more gender-inclusive, and how the queer community in Malaysia has organised themselves against the backdrop of an increasingly hostile environment.
For the sake of full transparency, we'd like to disclose that the presenter has previously donated to both SEED Foundation and the Queer Solidarity Fund.
Why Some Malaysian Teachers Are Paying for Students’ Mobile Data
Every so often, heartwarming stories emerge of educators and students alike overcoming hurdles in order for learning to continue, whether that’s a teacher travelling over 100 kilometres daily to reach students in rural areas, or a student who spent the night in a tree for better internet connection to sit for her exams. Stories like these tend to take off on social media because they represent a sense of triumph over adversity. But on the flip side, they also represent a societal failure to ensure access to education for all—a problem that has only been made worse by COVID-19.
In Malaysia, students have mostly been learning online since the onset of the pandemic and online learning seems likely to continue through August before a gradual reopening of schools. For many students without regular internet access, this has meant falling behind with their lessons. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2020 with almost 900,000 student respondents suggests that 37% do not have appropriate devices for home learning—and those who do may have to share with others in their household. So while remote learning may be an inconvenience to some, it is a true barrier to education for many, especially those from low-income families.
On this episode, Dayana Mustak speaks to Mazliza Mahmood, a teacher, and Chan Soon Seng, CEO of Teach for Malaysia. They talk about the educational alternatives available when a pandemic means in-person learning could put lives at risk and what help has been given to support students in need during this time.
For more information on how you can help Mazliza's students, you can send an enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Undocumented and Unvaccinated: Malaysia’s Unequal Vaccine Rollout
Infection rates continue to climb in Malaysia’s latest wave of COVID-19 infections. National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme was launched in February, not long after it was announced that everyone would be included in the vaccination program, including undocumented migrants. However, the Malaysian government later reversed this decision and instead pledged to crack down on undocumented migrants amid a nationwide lockdown. This has led to the arrest of more than 500 migrant workers, bringing the number of undocumented migrants detained this year to more than 9,000.
This U-turn by the Perikatan Nasional administration is unsurprising. Last May, the same assurance was given to undocumented migrants to coax them into coming forward to get tested for COVID-19, only for hundreds to later be arrested in raids by the immigration department.
On this episode, Deborah Augustin speaks to Adrian Pereira from North South Initiative and Mohammed*, an undocumented migrant from Bangladesh, about how the Malaysian government’s decision to deprive undocumented migrants of vaccines endangers not only this marginalised community but also Malaysia’s chances of reaching herd immunity.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect the guest’s identity due to fear for his safety.
This interview was recorded on 14 July 2021
COVID-19’s Mental Health Impact: How are Refugees Coping?
This podcast includes references to suicide.
These days, almost anyone you meet can talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their lives for the worse. Salary cuts or a total loss of income, separation from friends and family, and long periods of isolation. It is no surprise that this pandemic has taken a toll on our mental health.
But there are some groups who are not only more systematically vulnerable to mental illness, but have also suffered from a far more brutal experience than others. From heightened xenophobic sentiment, to being hunted down by the authorities during a nationwide lockdown and facing threats on social media, the refugee community in Malaysia have been forced to endure all of the same hardships as Malaysian citizens, plus an additional set of hardships stemming from their refugee status. Refugee mental health already received little attention or resources before the pandemic hit, so what kind of repercussions has COVID-19 had on this marginalised community?
In this episode, Deborah Augustin speaks to Matilda Xavier, Clinical Psychologist, and Bo Min Naing, president of the Rohingya Society in Malaysia. They talk about the stigma around mental health in the refugee community, how they have been coping with it during the pandemic, and how some communities are affected more than others.
If you are based in Malaysia and would like to speak to someone, you can contact:
Befrienders: 03-76272929 or email them at email@example.com
For more information on Mentem Psychological Services, please click here.
Heroes by Necessity: Reframing Refugee Stories
When you hear the word “refugee”, what picture comes to mind? Is it an image of a boat full of people trying to find a safe place to stay, or is it a desolate refugee camp? Often, the narrative we have of refugees is that they are helpless. On this episode of Southeast Asia Dispatches, Deborah Augustin speaks to Monique Truong and Leena Al-Mujahed, two women who have experienced forced displacement and continue to face their circumstances and obstacles with courage.
They reflect on the characterization of refugees as heroes and their vision for their lives and the society they want to be a part of.
You can register for the Women in Displacement event, taking place on 26 June, 8 PM GMT +8 by clicking here.
If you would like to learn more about the work that Leena does, please visit the Yemeni Refugee Women Association's Facebook or Instagram for more information. You can also go to their website yrwa.org to find out how you can support their work. If you would like to read Monique’s latest book, The Sweetest Fruits, you can find it here.