Shedding light on refugees


AT A glance, the photos on display at The Photographer’s Gallery Starhill may seem like usual images depicting lives of everyday people.  

But they are not just ordinary people. They are refugees who have fled their countries to seek shelter in Malaysia and are now at a loss about their future.  

‘Rohingya Girls’, shows the moment of happiness for these girls at thesight of a camera.

“Making the Invisible Visible” is a photography exhibition organised by the UN refugee agency UNHCR to shed some light on the refugee population living among us and yet remain unnoticed.  

“Malaysians are surprised that there are refugees living next door to them, and not in camps as they are accustomed to seeing in the news,” said Dr Volker Turk, a UNHCR representative.  

The exhibition showcases the photos of Sarah Hoibak who reveals tales of these people through her camera lens.  

The photos were captured over the course of five months during UNHCR’s routine community outreach visits in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor to review the conditions of the refugees.  

Hoibak had captured snippets and still moments of the refugees’ lives to emphasise on issues that affect them, like struggling to live in a new land, emotional trauma, facing an uncertain future and confronting misconceptions from local communities.  

“One of the misconceptions about refugees is that they are migrants,” said Dr Turk. 

“This is not true, because unlike migrants, refugees do not flee their country for better material improvements and they do not enjoy protection of their home countries. Refugees cannot return home safely,” 

Dr Turk added that refugees were frequently viewed with distrust and regarded as criminals, which he objected to. 

“Refugees are afraid of committing crimes in a host country because they do not want to be sent back,”  

There are about 47,000 refugees registered with UNHCR living in Malaysia, and they live in low-cost houses and flats in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Baru. 

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The 25 photos on display have different stories that make the images memorable.  

“Sometimes 20, Sometimes 30” is a photo which shows a group of men in a cramped room. The photo was taken as the men were relating their stories where it is normal for 20 to 30 refugees to live in a small flat. Their stay is usually indefinite because they live wherever job opportunities take them. 

“Your Home < 20Kg” shows a few refugees holding on to their luggage and it represents the terrifying realisation for them to meet unfamiliar people and to learn foreign languages.  

All the photos are for sale and proceeds will be channelled to a community project aimed at helping refugee children through art and photography.  

The month-long exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery will end on July 23. 

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