As a part-time student, I was eager to start my second year of the course because of the two-week placement. When we received information on the placements I was spoilt for choice with exciting projects in York and Malaysia. I couldn’t resist the unique opportunity to work with an NGO in South-East Asia, an area of the world I had never visited!
I chose to work on the Law of Asylum project with North South Initiative, a small organisation mainly focused on advocating for refugees and migrant workers. The aim of the project was to investigate the role of lawyers and the legal system in Malaysia in providing protection to refugees, despite Malaysia not being signatory to international frameworks concerning refugees and an absence of any domestic framework for refugee protection. I worked in a group of 4 students to interview lawyers who either work on refugee cases or wanted to expand their work to include refugees.
The experience was eye-opening. Lawyers discussed how they operate within Malaysia whilst facing challenges including limited training and poor access to legal aid. I was struck by the citizenship requirement of the majority of the few legal aid schemes in the country. This eligibility criteria detrimentally affects refugees; they are, by definition, not Malaysian citizens and are therefore unable to benefit from these schemes. This demonstrated to me that perhaps access to justice is not practically available for refugees.
The experience of a lifetime
Having returned to my studies after several years working on refugee issues, I found the placement cemented my interest in the area around Law of Asylum. It allowed me to develop skills in conducting human rights research including: arranging interviews; translating desk-based research to interview questions; navigating a new culture; understanding and complying with ethical principles both my own and those of the university; interviewing and identifying themes arising out of the data gathered from interviews and questionnaires.
Although the placement was hard work, there were plenty of opportunities to explore Kuala Lumpur and its exciting culture and amazing food!