The Refugee Fest in KL is a unique all-embracing event, a celebration of the contributions that refugees and asylum seekers make to life in Malaysia.

It is supported by various refugee communities and volunteers, all working together to present an artistic, cultural and educational festival experience for the masses.

The festival, now in its third year, was created as a platform for refugees to showcase their talents, share traditions and culture.

This year’s theme is “Sharing A Global Responsibility”, with activities, talks and exhibitions for the Refugee Fest taking place at the White and Black Box venues in Publika, KL, starting June 28.

“I believe people only fear something when they don’t understand it in its entirety. And therefore I have a role to play in helping Malaysians to get to know the refugees,” says Mahi Ramakrishnan, the Refugee Fest director.

“All it takes is for you to sit down with them, have coffee or teh tarik and listen to them. You would then realise that the refugees are just like you and me, with the same hopes and aspirations for themselves. With the same dreams for their children,” she adds.

One of the main reasons behind the Refugee Fest is to offer people from different backgrounds the opportunity to meet and celebrate together.

“It’s important that we embrace them (refugees) as a part of our society, not just as a global responsibility but also because the refugees contribute effectively to our society as artists, poets, engineers, teachers and so on,” says Mahi.

As of May this year, there are some 157,580 refugees registered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia, and of the figure, 72,490 or 46%, are Rohingya refugees.

Here are some of the events – all free admission – that you can look forward to during the festival:

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Verberckt’s Waiting For The Rain photo exhibition is about displaced communities in Somaliland and other regions of the Horn of Africa affected by drought.

Waiting For The Rain photo exhibition

Award-wining Belgian photojournalist David Verbeckt will be in town to talk about his photo documentary series on the plight of climate refugees in Somalia. He is also involved in two another exhibition/talks during the festival, which chart the course of the violence against the Rohingya from Myanmar to Malaysia to India. Where: White Box, Publika. When: June 28, 3.20pm.

From Exile With Love book launch

From Exile With Love is a collection of poetry from eight poets from Pakistan, Syria and Sri Lanka who comprise the Refugee Poets Society. The book is supported by the European Union Delegation to Malaysia. Where: Black Box, Publika. When: June 28, 3pm.

We Are Animals film screening

Malaysian filmmaker Zan Azlee spent several weeks at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh documenting the lives of the Rohingya refugees. He assisted a group of medical volunteers and headed to the Myanmar/Bangladesh border to witness several hundred Rohingya plead for safe passage and refuge. There will be a Q&A with the director after the screening. Where: Black Box, Publika. When: June 28, 4.45pm.

Screaming In Silence theatre show

A play on child marriages in Afghanistan, presented by Parastoo Theatre (a refugee theatre group) and helmed by Saleh Sepas, a Kabul-born professional theatre director, writer and refugee now based in KL. He is also a firm believer of the Theatre of the Oppressed, a form of popular community-based education that uses theatre as a tool for social change. The show will be followed by a Q&A session. Where: Black Box, Publika. When: July 1, 4pm.

From The Killing Fields To The Playing Fields film screening

It’s football season but with a “stateless” twist. From The Killing Fields To The Playing Fields is author-turned filmmaker JK Asher’s movie about Rohingya refugees in Malaysia and Australia training at football for the Conifa games, which is an equivalent of the World Cup but played by stateless persons. Last year, Asher released her book The Inverted Banyan Tree. Where: Black Box, Publika. Where: July 1, 7pm.


FB: The Refugee Fest: Inclusion For A Better World. Festival opens 3pm and ends 8pm on June 28, the launch day, while opening times for June 29-July 1 are noon to 8pm. An arts and crafts bazaar will be open daily at the White Box, Publika.