Past Events

Shedding Light on the Invisible: Understanding Refugees and Displacement in Malaysia

This forum sets out to explore the layers of complex experiences and perceptions of refugees in Malaysia as state and society negotiate the issues and challenges of refugee management, even as there is still an absence of legal recognition for these displaced communities. Join us in conversation at Penang Institute as Sarah Lawrence College professor of sociology, Dr Parthiban Muniandy, Malaysian activist, Heidy Quah, and Afghan refugee-activist, Amir Hossein, discuss and share their insights into the realities of refugee life in Malaysia. Emphasis will be placed on the crucial roles and challenges faced by the activists and their organisations in challenging systemic barriers, advocating for changes, and providing essential services.


Date: 19 June 2023, Monday
1) 8pm-10pm for Malaysia time (GMT+8)
2) 8am-10am for New York time (GMT -4)
Venue: Penang Institute, 10-12 Brown Road, 10350 George Town, Penang

1. Heidy Quah, founding director of Refuge for the Refugees, Selangor
2. Amir Hossein, director, Afghan Community Centre, Selangor

Dr Valeria Bonatti (On behalf of Dr Parthiban Muniandy, lecturer, Sarah Lawrence College, New York)


About the panelists

Heidy Quah

Heidy Quah began volunteering her services to the refugee community while she was an undergraduate student in accounting and finance. Together with a close friend, Quah established in 2012 the Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR) NGO to champion the rights of refugees and provide them comprehensive support, including access to basic education, healthcare, and vocational and entrepreneurship training. RFTR has expanded its services for refugees to 35 schools and two shelter homes. Quah currently also works at the Pinkcollar Employment Agency, a social enterprise working for the ethical recruitment of migrant workers and to advocate better working conditions for them. In addition, Quah lectures at Taylor’s Lakeside University, and supervises PhD students at the Australian Catholic University. In recognition of her work and efforts, Quah received the prestigious Queen’s Young Leader Award in 2017, and the South East Asia Women Of The Future Award in 2020.

Amir Hossein

Amir Hossein hails from Afghanistan, and has been residing in Malaysia for the past seven years. He is a second-generation refugee, and serves as the current director of the Afghan Community Center Malaysia based in Selangor. Aside from his passion in community development and volunteering, Amir also has interests in business development and organizational leadership, and in artificial intelligence and innovation. In 2022, he set up Renaissance AI, a machine-learning and AI-powered start-up. Most recently, Amir has been accepted into Columbia University in New York to pursue his degree in Computer Science. He hopes to begin his studies there in the Fall this year.

Dr Valeria Bonatti (Moderator)

Valeria has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, where she worked as an instructor of Global Studies and Sociology. Her teaching and research areas include globalization, the environment, global health, migration and gender. Prior to re-joining the University of Illinois in 2018, she taught for Bard College and for the Bard Prison Initiative. She is based in both Illinois and in New York State.