I decided to apply for this LLM due to its focus on international human rights law and the placement opportunity. At the time of application, I was not sure if I would like to go to Malaysia. I was there with my family for a while about 20 years ago which was a bittersweet memory. Given that I am Japanese, I was neither very excited about going to Asia nor expected a lot to learn from the opportunity. However, I couldn’t resist my passion to travel as well as intellectual curiosity to see what human rights work is actually like on the ground.
I worked in a group of 4 students, including myself, with Asylum Access Malaysia (AAM), an NGO supporting refugee rights. I interviewed Rohingya refugee clients to write referrals to UNHCR Malaysia to help them with the Refugee Status Determination process. Based on the hands-on experiences, we developed an online training programme for new interns and volunteers at AAM.
Confronted with reality
It was indeed challenging, and there was so much to learn. I was exposed to the vulnerable for the first time, and it was far beyond my anticipation. I was lost for words when a refugee client repeatedly begged for help at the end of an interview. She told me that she had waited too long. I can still vividly recall her saying ‘help’ and the silent moment as I searched for the right words to respond in a professional yet sympathetic manner. It made me confront my own fragility and naïveté. I also saw the reality that I usually see only through the screen.
I felt and still feel helpless, but now whenever I hear and see ‘Rohingya’, it is not somebody else’s story. The helplessness is the driving force in the pursuit of my career. With a sense of responsibility and commitment, I aspire to be a cause for a positive impact and change in the field of human rights. It was an extraordinary experience to see the gap between what I know and what is happening in reality, from which I learned a lot.