Heidy Quah said her primary mission as a new DAP recruit was to advise the party’s MPs on matters concerning refugees in Malaysia.
“In DAP, I hope to be able to work alongside DAP parliamentarians and share with them my experience working on the ground and see efforts made to improve the situation (of refugees in Malaysia).
“This is the first step and it’s a baby step, but this is what I’ve chosen to do,” she said during a ceremony to welcome her entry into DAP today.
Quah, who received the prestigious Young Leaders Award from Queen Elizabeth II last year, is best known for her work with Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR), a group she co-founded when she was 18.
The 24-year-old set up RFTR in 2012 after she realised how refugees in Malaysia lacked access to basic amenities like education.
RFTR primarily works with Myanmarese refugees, who make up the majority of asylum seekers in Malaysia.
Today, RFTR runs 10 schools in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, with 70 to 150 refugee students respectively.
Quah said that she was joining politics to pursue her ambition of influencing policy decisions and legislation that affect refugees.
Asked why she decided to join the DAP, Quah said she was inspired after reading a book by Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh just before she received her award last year.
She said she also chose to join the DAP because of the party’s commitments to human rights, equality and socio-economic justice.
Quah estimated that there are currently about 40,200 refugee children in Malaysia with no access to proper education.
“They’re either waiting to be settled or to be sent back to home countries. This process can often take five to 10 years and they go through this period without education,” she said.
A priority, she added, was for the government to formulate policies to allow refugees who are younger than 18 years old to access government schools.
“It would be healthy for our privileged kids to mix with refugee kids…just for them to gain a better understanding as to what’s happening outside of Malaysia.
“I believe that when we mix the privileged and underprivileged communities, there is so much they can learn from each other,” Quah said.
She said refugees also had problems accessing other basic needs such as healthcare and jobs.
“I definitely want to be more involved in policy making and legislation, as that has always been the dream of Refuge for Refugees (RFTR) when we first started it,” she told reporters.
She also said that she wanted to be the voice of young Malaysians while encouraging them to be more active in social causes.
Yeoh, who is Wanita DAP deputy chair, said she hopes that other young talents would come forward to contribute towards nation building.
She also said would be arranging a briefing for lawmakers soon to help kick-start the necessary legislation to help refugees.
DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang added that Quah was an inspiration for all Malaysians to use their talents to help Malaysia.
“I’m sure all of us love this country, all of us have something to give this country, and I think May 9 is the beginning where we all can play a role to remake Malaysia,” Lim said.