The Refugee Fest in Kuala Lumpur is returning for its fourth edition this week.

The festival, set to run at the Black Box space in Publika from June 13-16, features an array of music, theatre, cultural performances, film screenings, workshops and pop-up bazaars. The main aim of the arts-based festival, organised by Beyond Borders Malaysia (an NGO that helps refugee communities), is to build bridges between Malaysians and the different refugee communities here.

“Such a festival shows that refugees are also human beings, just like you and me. While it’s important to talk about the trauma and abuse that forced them to flee, they are much more than the persecution they have experienced,” says Mahi Ramakrishnan, festival founder and director.

“It’s equally important to celebrate their courage, determination and hope. It’s crucial that we continue to create platforms for them to showcase their talents and abilities.”

The Refugee Fest programme will see a total of 112 participants involved, with 98 refugees from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan and 13 Malaysian artists from various disciplines.

The theme for the festival is “Integration” which Mahi, who co-curated the festival with arts activist Pang Khee Teik, believes is timely.

“We believe it’s time we embraced the refugees into our society and acknowledge they can contribute effectively if given an opportunity,” shares Mahi, 49.

One of the highlights of the Refugee Fest is Dancing Beyond Borders on June 14, which will see cultural dances by Yemeni dancers, Somali dancers, and KL-based Indian dancer Sandhya Manoj.

“I believe it’s time for the refugees to ‘merge’ into the mainstream and be known as poets, theatre artists, writers, painters and singers,” says Mahi.

Another highlight is the launch of an illustrated book by Afghanistan poet/artist Masuma Tavakoli called Life Under Taliban on June 13.

The Thinking About Homeland, Looking Forward session on June 15 is a celebration of poetry and diversity. It is an evening of verses led by poets from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, who will share what it means to search for a new home.

Veteran documentary photographer SC Shekar presents The Camera Looks Both Ways: Workshop On Photographing People With Empathy And Respect on June 14. Shekar’s photography featuring Rohingya refugees documented over 28 years ago is used as today as a reference when teaching ethnographic portraiture to anthropologists and photographers alike.

An interactive theatre workshop on June 14 by Afghan director Saleh Sepas of Parastoo Theatre is something to keep in mind. Saleh will show how theatre can be used as a tool for oppressed communities to change their own narratives. On June 16, the Parastoo Theatre Team will perform the Shut Up, Music! show.

For something more analytical, don’t miss the Game Of Homes forum on June 16, featuring Syrian poet/writer Mwaffaq Al-Hajjar (winner of 2017 Migrant & Refugee Poetry Competition in Malaysia), Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto and writer Bernice Chauly on a panel, moderated by Andika Wahab, fellow at Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), UKM.

The forum will explore the differences between a host’s meaning of home, a refugee’s meaning of home, and the international legal meaning of home.


The Refugee Fest 2019 is on at Black Box, Publika in Kuala Lumpur from June 13-16. Entrance is free. FB: The Refugee Fest 2019 (Kuala Lumpur).