2013 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: University Of Louisville
The State of Suspension:
Refugee life in absentia of global norms and models for resolution in Malaysia
Mentor: Jason Abbott, Political Science
Students: Meagan Floyd ’13, Michael Zeller ‘13
Our group spent three weeks in Malaysia conducting research on how the Malaysian government and other, mostly NGO, organizations assist the large population of Chin Burmese refugees living in this country. A key objective of our research is to determine what the impact is on refugees caused by Malaysia’s not being a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. While in country, we kept a blog of our activities and posted this on the Center for Asian Democracy website at the University of Louisville, www.thedurian.org. The chief focus of our research was to conduct interviews with over two dozen key actors and stakeholders involved in these endeavors. Meagan Floyd also interviewed thirty refugees and their families.
Each morning, I set out for a twenty-minute walk to spend the day speaking with refugee families. Once outside the tourist and business-dominated city center, the roads begin to crumble and a deep trough of sewage runs parallel to the sidewalk. Sitting barefoot on the floor of their apartments, the refugees tell story after story about fighting for wages they have fairly earned, night raids by the Malaysian police, and the lack of United Nations support for their community. My research has confirmed my desire to pursue a Master’s Degree in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, yet instead of seeing a career at the UNHCR, my desire now is to locate a position at a smaller, community-run organization. Upon returning to the United States, Michael and I presented our research this September at the University of Louisville’s Center for Asian Democracy. We focused our remarks on the key concerns of refugees and the responses from various groups working to aid them. We are now refining our prescriptions and data to draft a research article that will focus on the Chin as a successful model for urban refugee life and the community’s organization in a flawed Malaysian system.
In the little more than a month since returning from Malaysia and the data/testimony collection phase of our project, my colleagues and I have thoroughly reviewed the raw materials we gathered and begun to examine them through the analytical paradigms of our original project proposal, that is, with a view to propose new policies and to distill a generalizable model for urban refugee systems. When presenting our research at the Center for Asian Democracy, Meagan and I explained the origins of our project, its purposes and methods. We also provided an overview of the data and testimony that we gathered and produced a list of key concerns and of corrective policy proposals. We are now co-writing a research paper for submission for publication. This experience has intensified my confidence in civil society systems – directly guided as they are by people and communities – and the positive effect they can have on adverse situations. It has also confirmed my belief in retaining a comparative perspective and my belief that lessons gained in one setting can be aptly applied to another.