Program to Protect Women Refugees in Malaysia Highlighted as “Innovative”

Washington, D.C., 29 March 2018 - An International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) program that aims to protect vulnerable women and children has been named as an example of socially innovative responses to the needs of refugees and migrants.

The ICMC’s Refugee Women’s Protection Corps in Malaysia is among some 60 innovative programs which embody core principles of Catholic social teaching, according to a report published by the association Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) on 2 April.

Volunteers joining the Refugee Women’s Protection Corps are trained and coached by Jackie Loo, Head of ICMC’s Office in Malaysia. The group is learning about ICMC’s Children’s Safety Program.  Volunteers for the Refugee Women’s Protection Corps are trained and coached by Jackie Loo, Head of ICMC’s Office in Malaysia. The group is learning about ICMC’s Children’s Safety Program. Photo © ICMC

At FADICA’s request, the Center for Social Innovation at the Boston College School of Social Work surveyed more than 170 programs carried out by Catholic organizations. The goal was to identify new or creative approaches to the refugee crisis that reflect Catholic values, such as hospitality, good stewardship, community building and empowerment, while also seeking to tackle root causes.

The Refugee Women’s Protection Corps is the cornerstone of ICMC’s work to reduce gender-based violence and protect vulnerable women and children in Malaysia. Their members work with refugee communities in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, as well as in the nearby Klang Valley, and in the Northwestern State of Penang.

Through the program, refugee volunteers respond quickly and sensitively to the needs of other refugees, who receive emergency shelter, medical care and psychological support.

Refugees from Myanmar, the Middle East and Somalia are trained and offer those seeking assistance caring support in their own language. They conduct house visits, provide counseling and operate two domestic violence “hot-lines.”

In this way, the program taps into the communities’ own resources to combat harmful gender stereotypes, oppose violence and re-assert the human dignity of survivors.

In 2017, refugee volunteers responded to 302 incidents of gender-based violence, a nearly 140% increase compared to the preceding year. The program also ensured that 33 survivors and 40 children had a safe place to sleep.

In the same year, the program’s efforts to raise awareness about gender-based violence reached more than 1,900 people using training sessions and materials such as brochures, coloring books and MP3 players.

At a broader level, the Refugee Women’s Protection Corps has had a ripple effect in fostering more just treatment of women within refugee communities while enabling volunteers to gain confidence in addressing such a serious need.

The report, which includes two other ICMC programs, is part of a three-year FADICA initiative to explore Catholic social innovation in tackling global challenges, such as the refugee and migrant crisis.

A nonprofit association that works to strengthen and promote Catholic philanthropy, FADICA is looking to identify and support a specifically Catholic approach to social innovation – one that finds transformative, sustainable responses that enhance social justice in the face of problems that have proven difficult to address effectively.

The report lifts up a wide range of exemplary programs, noting that “the pursuit of social innovation is an inherently Catholic undertaking.”